We all look forward to summer reading, especially if we’re hooked on detective fiction in all its forms. Many of these books arrive on the shelves in a series format, which is looked upon quite sniffily by Lit professors as being banal, formulaic and frivolous. I’d rather describe the well-written versions as worldly, entertaining and informative. You can add “funny,” “thrilling,” “romantic” and “scary” --- whatever subset rows your boat --- but above all, summer reads are escapism in its highest form. You just know when you pick up a book by your favorite author that you will open the door to their fictional lives with all of the friends, foes, peccadillos and perfections of larger-than-life characters.
Linda Fairstein is among the best of the best in treating her fans to all of the above. TERMINAL CITY explores the history of one of New York City’s most magnificent historical landmarks, Grand Central Terminal. Alexandra “Coop” Cooper, Assistant DA and head of the sex crimes division of the NYPD, is called in when a young woman is found murdered and raped in the Tower Suite at the Waldorf Astoria in midtown Manhattan, connected by rail to nearby Grand Central. A cryptic marking is found on her body resembling railroad tracks.
"Whether you use Grand Central on a regular basis or have only visited as a tourist, the history of the century-old hub of the New York transit system is as page-turning as the chase for the bad guy."
The Waldorf Astoria is considered one of the most luxurious and prestigious hotels in the world. It boasts of tight security, and murder has never taken place in its splendid history. The security threat is critical, for the entire Tower Suite has been reserved for a visit by the President of the United States for a UN conference with other heads of state in just over a week. When two more bodies turn up in the proximity of the Waldorf and Grand Central with the same MO, Coop’s detective partner, Mercer Campbell, and Mike Chapman, an NYPD officer, are summoned to head up the investigation team. Security cameras have been disabled --- no prints, DNA or apparent motive is evident.
The team launches a search through the countless tunnels, tracks and cavities in the walls where the “moles” live. Moles are the homeless men and women who, having been banished from parks and public facilities, have taken up permanent residence underground. Stepping cautiously around “track rabbits” (urban slang for rats), the investigators wind their way through miles of tunnels, as well as blocked and gated stairways, encountering at every turn sinister places where a madman could hide.
The fascinating history of Grand Central Terminal is adroitly delivered as Coop, Mike and Mercer tour the dank and reeking underground neighborhood known as “Terminal City.” Whether you use Grand Central on a regular basis or have only visited as a tourist, the history of the century-old hub of the New York transit system is as page-turning as the chase for the bad guy. That is a major perk of reading Fairstein’s prolific crime novels --- the entertaining travelogue that is a setting for each of her thrillers that ring with authenticity. Fairstein was chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the District Attorney’s office for over two decades and is regarded as America’s foremost legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence.
My own encounter with Grand Central was back in the ’80s when it was inhabited by druggies, homeless people and the mentally ill who moved onto the benches and into the restrooms as the last trains departed the station. I stopped to use the ladies room before we left, but, observing feet and ragged blankets inside the toilet stalls, I backed out and decided to wait until we got back to our Jersey hotel. I’d like to see it in its much improved condition after new rules were applied. Much has changed in the grand old building, and Fairstein has written the book about the denizens of Terminal City wrapped up in another Alex Cooper crime story. It doesn’t get better than this.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on June 20, 2014