New York City ADA Alexandra Cooper is just settling in for some much needed R&R in the south of France with her lover, Frenchman Luc Rouget, owner of a three-star Michelin restaurant near the Côte d'Azur. Alex has barely unpacked her bags when a woman’s body is discovered in a nearby pond, shattering the tranquility of the sleepy little village where Luc makes his home.
"[T]he reader is treated not only to a behind-the-scenes tour of some of America’s finest haute cuisine restaurants, but also to the fascinating lore dating back to the Prohibition Era of the elaborate means used to keep the liquor flowing from their camouflaged cellars.... [W]e turn the pages from the first paragraph to the last as Fairstein works her magic."
Her investigative radar goes off like a fire alarm when local officials declare the drowning accidental or a suicide. On-scene evidence, rapidly being trampled by the local gendarme and curiosity seekers, points to possible murder. This is the first hint of the gulf between American and French police work and public attitudes. When a matchbox advertising Luc’s soon-to-be opened new restaurant in Manhattan is found in the dead woman’s pocket, and further investigation reveals that she once worked for Luc, Alex finds herself entangled in a crime that may involve the man she loves.
Meanwhile, an international scandal is unfolding in New York, where the multi-millionaire head of a world-wide banking consortium has been accused of raping a hotel maid. Alex tries to ignore the frantic calls from her office, but soon learns that the DA’s office has tracked her down and she has been called back to New York to take over the botched investigation. Her deposition of the victim falters as the maid’s lawyer calls a press conference to announce the filing of a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against her famous assailant.
As Alex tries to put out the fires in the incendiary charges and counter charges in the rape case, another suspicious murder is reported in New York. This time the victim is male, but a matchbox advertising Luc’s New York restaurant, identical to the one found on the woman in France, is discovered. When it is revealed that this victim, a French maitre d', recently accepted an important position in Luc’s new restaurant project, Alex is caught between disillusionment and fear for the safety of her lover. Is he involved in criminal activities, or is he being framed?
Alex’s relationship with Luc is further tested when his French laissez-faire attitude toward victims of sexual abuse collides with Alex’s long-time crusade for victims’ rights. While evidence builds against him and his financial backers in a potential drug-smuggling scheme, Alex is torn between believing in Luc, who may be an unknowing partner with dangerous criminals, and her growing disenchantment with his social attitudes.
If the ape case involving a prominent banking CEO president and a hotel maid sounds familiar, it is because a similar situation arose in the U.S. in May of 1911. The unfolding drama in the novel in no way resembles the real-life facts, but it underscores the press’s love affair with sexually titillating events and the differences between American and European methods for dealing with high-profile cases. Author Linda Fairstein often features headline-grabbing crimes in her novels by dipping into her 27 years of experience as a prosecuting attorney in the New York Sex Crimes division.
Fairstein is also renowned for her vast historical knowledge of famous New York landmarks. This time, the reader is treated not only to a behind-the-scenes tour of some of America’s finest haute cuisine restaurants, but also to the fascinating lore dating back to the Prohibition Era of the elaborate means used to keep the liquor flowing from their camouflaged cellars.
We are given a peek at Alex’s complicated relationship with the current men in her life. There has long been an arm’s-length affection between her and Mike, the wise-cracking police detective partner who always has her back but makes sure she doesn’t let her success go to her head. Her long-distance and romantic affair with Luc has been a subtle undertone in the last few novels, but it comes front and center in NIGHT WATCH. Forced to more closely examine her feelings and a possible permanent future with the intriguing Monsieur Rouget, Alex is confronted with a major conflict as Mike’s barbs become annoying and hurtful, and Luc’s urbane cultural differences surface in unsettling ways.
Meanwhile, we turn the pages from the first paragraph to the last as Fairstein works her magic.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on July 13, 2012