Hunting a killer within New York’s urban jungle becomes the biggest case of Alexandra Cooper’s career in New York Times bestselling author Linda Fairstein’s latest riveting thriller, Deadfall.
Perennial bestseller Linda Fairstein returns with Deadfall—the 19th book to feature series protagonist Alexandra “Alex” Cooper. Chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney’s office in Manhattan for more than two decades before stepping away to write crime fiction full-time, Fairstein is considered the nation’s foremost legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence. Her books are grounded in an authenticity of time and place that is nearly unrivaled among contemporaries.
Deadfall opens in the immediate aftermath of a shocking crime: a drive-by shooting outside New York City’s famed Metropolitan Museum of Art that leaves District Attorney Paul Battaglia dead in Alex Cooper’s arms. Despite her intimate familiarity with violence—including having prosecuted the most heinous of cases and surviving a recent kidnapping that left her traumatized (2015’s Devil’s Bridge)—Alex can barely fathom the reality of what she’s witnessed:
I had stared at death before. I was way too familiar with the vagaries of murder.
I had seen it flex its muscles on the cracked pavement of New York City sidewalks and behind grimy stairwells in housing projects … I had comforted many of the shattered lives that murder left in its wake, and tried to do justice for them in a court of law for more than a dozen years.
But I had never held death in my arms until tonight. I had never cradled a killer’s prey against my body—a life extinguished in an instant, while the blood dripped out onto my chest and pooled in my lap until the police arrived to release me from death’s grip.
Still, she’s compelled to relive those brief-yet-horrifying moments again and again for the sake of law enforcement personnel, who believe she holds the key to understanding both what happened and why.
Though Battaglia was Alex’s mentor and one-time confidante, their relationship had cooled considerably following the discovery that her boss was in collusion with citizens of disrepute. Conflicted feelings compound the shock of his death, leaving Alex on edge—particularly when investigators prove to be more antagonistic than sympathetic in their interrogations of her.
Alex’s struggles with PTSD and alcohol are well known, as is the knowledge that she and Battaglia were on the outs. Consequently, theirs is an attitude of skepticism—perhaps even suspicion. After all, what motivated Battaglia to seek her out as he fell into the crosshairs? Alex doesn’t have an explanation for that, innocent or otherwise, but she’s determined to discover the truth of the matter before she becomes collateral damage.
Fortunately, what Alex does have is her longtime sidekicks (and Final Jeopardy betting partners) to help run interference: NYPD detective/boyfriend Mike Chapman and fellow officer Mercer Wallace. The three initiate an unsanctioned investigation into Battaglia’s murder and quickly discover that the DA’s proclivities—which threatened the sanctity of the office—may have marked him for death.
Surprisingly, it becomes apparent that big-game hunting and the illegal animal trade are at the very heart of the case—and that perpetrators unknown will stop at nothing to protect their lucrative liaisons. It’s a dangerous game, indeed, and one in which Alex and Co. may very well have become the prey.
Fans of Fairstein know that the author likes to educate as well as entertain, using each book to highlight real-life city attractions. In Deadfall, much of the action takes place in and around the Bronx Zoo (preferred name: Bronx Zoological Park); not only does this provide a distinctive and surprisingly desolate backdrop but one that allows for an insightful examination of the entity’s animals, its structure, and its cultural evolution. While the plot that plays out against this familiar landmark is fictionalized, its ripped-from-the-headlines urgency is very much based in fact.
Deadfall is ambitious and surprising in all the right ways. The emotional intensity is on par with the propulsive action, given Alex’s heightened state; this time it’s more than professional—it’s personal. Fairstein peppers the pages with an appealing combination of history and mystery, seamlessly melding murder with office politics, turf wars, gang lore, secret societies, prolonged vendettas, wildlife profiteering, and a smattering of other ethical, moral, and social issues. It’s a potent literary cocktail, and one that she pulls off with a sense of profundity. This one is a grabber from the very first page, its grip entirely unrelenting.
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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.