Review

The Deadhouse

by Linda Fairstein

She's tall, she's blonde, and she's back. Manhattan Assistant
DA Alexandra Cooper, the scourge of Big Apple sex offenders,
returns in THE DEADHOUSE, the fourth in the very popular series of
mystery novels written by real-life New York sex crimes DA Linda
Fairstein. 

THE DEADHOUSE wastes no time in setting out some very juicy bait.
Shortly after faking her own death as part of a sting operation
planned by law enforcement types on the Jersey side of the river,
political science professor Lola Dakota is found doing an excellent
job of not faking her death --- having been squished by an elevator
in her Manhattan apartment building after first having been
strangled. By the time you finish the first chapter, the hook is
set, and author Fairstein is reeling you in like a trout. Don't
fight it.

Ms. Fairstein's real-life record for prosecuting sex crimes has
generated plenty of ink in its own right, and the author's
experience and expertise in the nuts and bolts of putting
Manhattan's bottom-feeders behind bars is in ample evidence in the
pages of THE DEADHOUSE. The detail and apparent realism that
informs the depiction of the business of being a sex crimes DA
offsets dialogue that sometimes lacks street credibility. It's kind
of like expecting Andy Sipowicz and getting Martha Stewart. But,
hey, this is an Alexandra Cooper mystery, not "NYPD Blue." It's an
eminently forgivable flaw.

But as a newcomer to the Alexandra Cooper series, I was surprised
at what at first appeared to be a rather anemic heroine, especially
when compared to her sidekick, NYPD homicide detective Mike
Chapman. Chapman's a feisty, wisecracking, in-your-face foil to
Cooper's uptown girl professional cool. As buddy pairings go, this
one tends to favor Chapman: he gets all the good lines. And too
often --- at least to my taste as a fan of Stephanie Plum, Kinsey
Milhone, Carlotta Carlyle, and V. I. Warshawski --- Cooper comes
off as just a little too dependent on Chapman. 

Cooper and Chapman are equals in intellect, but whenever Cooper
gets knocked to the ground, Chapman is there to pick her up and
dust her off. It would have been far more satisfying if just once
Cooper hauled off and smacked somebody. Given some of the lowlifes
Ms. Fairstein has sent up the river, I wouldn't be at all surprised
if there were occasions when she felt like bypassing the legal
system altogether and just opening up a jumbo can o' whoop-ass. I
can't think of a better way to relieve the kind of professional
stress that must surely be a part of Ms. Fairstein's life than
letting her fictional alter ego dish out a little pay-back.

But then that wouldn't really be in character for Cooper. In this
team, she supplies the glitz, and Chapman, the grit. In the end
it's not that Cooper is a thinly-drawn character, it's that she's a
subtle string quartet competing for the reader's attention with a
supporting cast that's as hard to ignore as an under-rehearsed
marching band --- and just as much fun. So even if she is quiet and
cultured, even if she has a weekend place on Martha's Vineyard and
a network news dude for a boyfriend, Cooper gets the job done, and
in a fine and entertaining fashion.

 

So entertaining, in fact, that I finished the book a few nights ago
during a violent windstorm that knocked out electrical power all
over town. I spent four hours getting to the whodunit part with a
flashlight balanced on my shoulder, aimed at the pages. The wind
howled around the house, the windows rattled and creaked, and I sat
there alone in the living room, hoping the batteries would hold out
until the last page. Frankly, I can't think of better conditions
for reading a good mystery. And that night, as luck would have it,
I had one in hand.

Reviewed by Bob Rhubart on January 21, 2011

The Deadhouse
by Linda Fairstein

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2003
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Mass Market Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket
  • ISBN-10: 0671019546
  • ISBN-13: 9780671019549