on February 20, 2002
So here we have Linda Fairstein's fourth novel about her leading lady Alexandra Cooper. Fairstein in real life (not sure when she does her writing) shares the same job as Cooper in fiction, head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the DA's Office in Manhattan; so the streets of Gotham are once again our setting. And the now familiar supporting cast, especially Alex' foil, detective Mike Chapman and a few others in bit parts, are reprised from the first three stories. A serious boyfriend, NBC news correspondent "Jake", has a fairly large part first coaxing Alex to come "shack up" and later throwing her away over a hot murder lead he won't share with our leading lady.
The plot this time is about college professor Lola Dakota who has been stalked by an ex-husband so ruthlessly that the NJ DA's office stages a fake murder to entrap the ex, which ostensibly works, only to have Lola turn up really dead just a few hours later under mysterious circumstances. Thereafter, we get a hundred boring pages about an obscure island near Manhattan which housed prisoners and insane people and smallpox victims, et al, during mostly the 1800's. Various of the college staff are working there as (I guess -- it's not all that clear) historians and archaeologists, and there are rumors of missing diamonds and so on to add to the intrigue. Meanwhile, the repartee between Cooper and Chapman, their relationship often bordering on the amorous in earlier stories, but rather biting in this one, breaks up the history lesson as the murder leads get worked in a chapter here and there.
I recommend these stories, but urge the interested to start with any of the first three not this one. To me, this one lacks cohesiveness, lacks charm, and lacks tension: while the suspense does build, the ending to some extent comes too quick and too easy, despite some trumped up personal jeopardy to Cooper.
And now to my pet peeve -- I absolutely cannot believe for one second that a top executive in the NYC DA's office runs around on one single case as much or more than the detectives solving crimes. Last I knew, DA's prepare and try cases, grill witnesses including the police, and spend more time with law books and associates in court than roaming the streets hunting for clues. If we weren't told Alex' real job, with brief stops to her office for literally a few minutes here or there on other matters, we would swear she was a police detective working undercover or something. I really have to wonder if Fairstein does this in real life, because if not, why does she insist Cooper run around as though she were a disciple of Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warchawski. I have to put this prejudice off to the side every time I read one of these stories.
Lastly, it's not obvious that Fairstein is improving with experience. Whereas you can almost see the strength of Lisa Scottoline's skills improving every couple of books (she's up to 8 now), we see here more a very good entry level followed by little additional development of expertise. I think Fairstein could do better, and if it's a lack of time getting in the way, maybe she really should "quit her day job" (as they say) and write full time. Maybe a spinoff series about a lady detective might be a fine idea as well -- she certainly seems to enjoy the action she insists in portraying. We shall see.
on February 14, 2002
In this slow-moving entry in the Alex Cooper series, Linda Fairstein gets badly bogged down in some fairly esoteric New York history as she tries to tell the tale of a murdered college professor named Lola Dakota.
It seems that Lola had an all-consuming interest in Blackwell Island, a corollary to Manhattan Island that once housed a horrific set of prisons and hospitals during the historic plague years. Fairstein gives us an exhaustive and confusing history of the place, including its famed smallpox hospital, long gone to ruins. It's not that the history is not interesting, but it bogs the story down time and again until the plot lines often becomea confusing maze.
There are many possible suspects in the murder of Lola, whose life was apparently as flamboyant as her name. Alex and Chapman are on the case, examining everyone from Lola's abusive and shady ex-husband, the prime suspect, to Lola's equally shady professorial colleagues at the university. Since the murder has taken place during the Christmas holidays, the investigation--and the story--frequently gets sytmied by a lack of momentum.
Never is the book more frustrating than when we get more-than-we-needed glimpses into Alex's private life, this time with new and serious beau Jake, a high-profile TV journalist. As in the first three books, Fairstein's descriptions of Alex's personal life never quite come to life. The scenes between Jake and Alex, from the bedroom to the elegant restaurants they frequent, are embarrassingly stilted and ring untrue. Contrast that with the high-energy relationship between Alex and her cohorts, Chapman and Mercer, and the lesser characters in Alex's world of cops and prosecutors, and it seems even more out of place.
In "The Deadhouse," particularly, much more so than the first three novels, this juxtaposition between Alex's intriguing and gritty work life and her sophisticated, wealthy, and--yes, boring--personal life, gets in the way of the story. The first three novels moved along at such a fast and interesting pace that the reader almost welcomed the breaks. But this novel is so slow-moving in every way, that the breaks simply serve to deaden one's interest. By the end of the book, I didn't much care who killed Lola or why, and I found the revelation of the murderer as big a yawn as the story itself.
Fairstein is a fine writer, and usually weaves an interesting tale, which made "The Deadhouse" even more disappointing to read. It is worth reading for those who are Alex Cooper addicts, but I certainly would not recommend this as a first taste of Fairstein. She can do much, much better.
on December 13, 2001
The book starts with a 'staged murder' of an abused wife in order to fool her dangerous husband. Unfortunately, a few hours after he is arrested, his wife is strangled and thrown into an elevator shaft. The question is: Did the husband have a backup plan to kill his wife?
I will not spoil the book, but I was unhappy with the story itself. It is good to familiarize myself with the characters that I left behind in COLD HIT, however, the story is not really about them. It involves an abandoned hospital, located in Roosevelt Island, where very sick immigrants would be taken in order to die. Lola Dakota (the aforementioned wife) has an interest in this place that will be made clear at the end of the book. There are conspiracies, hit-and-runs, and old secrets involved in the mystery of the abandoned hospital.
Alexandra Cooper (Fairstein's protagonist) goes through the paces to solve the problem in this book but I think it would have preferred it had this book not been part of the series. I enjoyed Cooper in the other books and I suggest you try them.
on October 15, 2001
In "The Deadhouse," Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper and Detective Mike Chapman once again team up to solve a homicide. Lola Dakota (an unfortunate choice of name) is the victim. Dakota was a distinguished professor of political science and an acknowledged expert on the history and politics of New York City. Someone strangled Lola and pushed her down an elevator shaft in the apartment building where she lived.
Who had reason to want Lola dead? Certainly her husband, Ivan Kralovic, is a suspect, since he had been abusing and stalking Lola for years. Lola's colleagues at King's College are suspects, since she had clashed with some of them. Alex and Mike interview many of Lola's friends and acquaintances in an effort to find a motive for murder.
Complicating the case is the fact that Lola was working on a historical project, an architectural dig on Roosevelt Island (formerly called Blackwells Island), in Manhattan. It seems that many years ago, the island was used to keep New York's undesirables away from the rest of the city's population. At one time or another, prisoners, people who were destitute and insane, or victims of contagious diseases such as smallpox, were confined to institutions on this island. Lola and her colleagues are using the tools of urban archaeology to uncover some of the island's secrets. Could this work somehow be connected to Lola's death?
I like the characters of Alex Cooper and Mike Chapman. Alex is beautiful, smart, sophisticated and dedicated to her job. Mike is irreverent, politically incorrect and a great detective. Although Mike and Alex are seeing other people, it is obvious that they care for one another deeply, and their attraction to one another is a recurring theme in this series.
Another positive aspect of this book is the background information about Roosevelt Island that Fairstein provides. Fairstein obviously researched the island's history thoroughly and I found this aspect of the novel fascinating.
Unfortunately, the mystery of Lola's murder is handled very badly. The suspects are not compelling characters and the solution to the mystery is incoherent and implausible. The ending of the novel falls flat and is extremely unsatisfying. I am tired of killers who endlessly explain why they committed murder to their captives. This device is used once again here and it detracts from the ending, which is devoid of excitement and suspense. As much as I like the the main characters of Alex and Mike, I give "The Deadhouse" low marks as a mystery and suspense novel.
on October 2, 2001
I normally do not review books that I do not think deserve 5 stars, you know, if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all.My sister and brother-in-law think I should review other books, not just ones I love. They say,"that's why people look at the reviews, I could be helping someone else." So...okay, here goes. This is not Ms. Fairstein's best work. I am an avid fan, and I rush out to buy her books as soon as they hit the shelves. This one I could have waited for the paper. I felt like she was telling two or three stories at once wihout doing justice to any of them. Although the information on New York history was interesting, I never connected with the story, didn't know or care about the victims and had the culprit picked out after Alex's (the main character), first interview with him or her.(Even though I didn't like it, I don't want to give it away to someone else!!!!) Anyway, sorry Ms. Fairstein, not my favorite of yours, although I will still run out and buy your next one I'm sure. I have never had will power in a book store, especially for a favorite author.
on July 8, 2002
Lola Dakota is one of the most interesting characters I've encountered in a while. Though she doesn't ever appear in the book in real time (it's her demise that is the catalyst for the action), she gave the story real texture. A respected professor with more than a touch of showgirl, a liberated woman with terrible taste in men, a lover of history and a lover of wealth ... Lola was a complex woman, and it's these complexities that seem to keep sending Alex and Chapman in different directions when trying to figure out the how's and why's of her death. The plot was intricate and involving. I also liked the unexpected and moving glimpse into Chapman's personal life. Unfortunately, I could not care less about Alex and her reporter/lover. Their dialog and their big fight seemed contrived. I think the book would have been just as good (if not better) without that subplot.
on November 26, 2001
I have been anxiously awaiting the release of another book by Linda Fairstein and I was really disappointed. Working with crime victims myself and having worked in the criminal justice field for over 20 years, cops are some of my best friends. I particularly enjoyed the easy banter between Coop and Mike Chapman - including their Final Jeopardy bet. However, this book had little banter - only a hint at the chemistry that the two keeps buried just below the surface - and a story line that put me to sleep. I had to force myself to finish the book and normally I have to force myself to put Alex Cooper books down so that I can sleep or accomplish anything at all besides finishing the book. Hopefully this is not an example of things to come - only a lull that will result in the next book being spectacular.
on November 13, 2001
Although I enjoy Ms. Fairstein's books.....I find her somewhat egotistical. She presumably is writing about someone in her own real-life occupation and she seems somewhat filled with self-admiration, self-importance, and a holier than thou attitude. She tries to be tough, but then has 5 pairs of shoes under her desk, expensive make-up and never seems to go out without a hair in place. I am glad that I neither work for or with her. She would drive me nuts!!!!!!!!!
on December 4, 2002
This was my first Linda Fairstein novel. I thoroughly enjoyed the history of Roosevelt Island presented in the novel, but was bored with the story and characters. I will read her earlier novels and hope for better plots, but will settle for more good history lessons. Because of this novel, I look forward to visiting Roosevelt Island.
on September 25, 2004
The author and her protagonist, Alexandra Cooper, have some things in common - same job (head of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office), same looks (blond curls) and I wouldn't be surprised if they both bet on a US television game show. And let's not forget that both have property in Martha's Vineyard. See what I'm getting at? I don't think this series is creative - I think it's real life fictionalised, and in this case, I don't like it. (B)