In 2002, Linda Fairstein retired from her position as head of the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's office. She is the Real Deal --- a real life prosecutor who can write. She's also blonde and gorgeous. Now go ahead and tell me life is fair!
With each of her five novels since FINAL JEOPARDY (her first), she has displayed an increasingly smooth storytelling style uniquely her own. If her books read a lot like true crime, it's because she knows her material down to the most intimate detail. Fairstein's daily work routine has become the stuff of television legend, via Law & Order, particularly Law & Order: SVU, which stands for the department she originated --- not in fiction but in real life. She has made an enormous contribution to the now-safer streets of New York City and, with her retirement, will certainly be missed. We who like to read are lucky because we now have her full-time attention as a writer.
In her fifth outing with her DA protagonist, Alexandra Cooper, Linda Fairstein takes us into a fascinating behind-the-scenes world at the Metropolitan Museum and its offshoot for medieval art history, The Cloisters, as well as the New York Museum of Natural History. They have been planning a 3-way cooperative exhibit on Beastiaries, Real and Imagined (a fictional exhibit that sounds like such a great idea, I wanted to see it for myself). The victim is a young, promising museum employee of The Cloisters who worked on that exhibit. Her perfectly preserved body is found inside an ancient limestone sarcophagus that was about to be shipped abroad, as part of a large shipment of art on exchange from the Metropolitan. Within 24 hours of the body's discovery, the Met's famous Director has resigned. He claims his resignation has no relationship whatever to the finding of the body but, of course, Alex and her team members, Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace, are not so easily convinced.
An autopsy reveals that the victim died of arsenic poisoning and that she had been dead for almost six months. How did the body come to be in such perfect condition after such a long time? More interesting speculations occur when the head of the museum's Egyptian Collection leaves to attend a "mummy congress" in Chile --- it seems he is the world's foremost expert on mummification. And so onward, the story goes.
Linda Fairstein is deadly serious about her concern over crime (sex crimes in particular) and her novels reflect this concern. But THE BONE VAULT is, nevertheless, fun to read. It is no small achievement to be able to write heavy stuff with a light touch, but she has pulled it off for much of the book. If you enjoy going to museums, this will be a treat for you. Even if museums aren't quite your ideal for crime story enrichment, you'll find a lot of other little tidbits that add to the narrative. These tidbits include insight into Alan Dershowitz's Martha's Vineyard beach habits and in what movie you might catch a glimpse of William Shatner's pubic hair ... if you have sharp eyes and are inclined to look.
THE BONE VAULT is Linda Fairstein's best yet.
Reviewed by Ava Dianne Day on January 21, 2011