The title of Linda Fairstein's newest Alexandra Cooper novel, THE
KILLS, has more than one meaning. To Detective Mike Chapman the
kills are homicides: "Hunters used that word to describe the
slaughter of their prey, and fighter pilots spoke the same language
when referring to the downing of enemy planes --- the unnatural
termination of lives." And in this thriller we are told that "once
[there] were 'kills' all over Lower Manhattan, a vestige from the
Dutch colonization that meant 'channels' or 'creeks' … [and
one of them] was obviously a viaduct to the shipyards along the
Complementing this bit of New York City's history and the different
ways the word 'kills' is used are the events that surround a deadly
hunt for "a legal form, signed by the secretary of the treasury
more than half a century ago, that monetized one Double Eagle for
King Farouk. That one sheet of paper, smuggled out of Egypt …
perhaps after King Farouk was deposed, is necessary if …
together with [a coin found in a dead woman's closet] would make
[the] possessor a multimillionaire."
King Farouk's obsession for collecting the most unique items in the
world is well documented. But rumors surface about whether or not
he left the American Double Eagle coin behind when he was deposed.
And is it possible that an American CIA agent whose assignment kept
him in Cairo somehow stole the treasure? This agent turns out to be
related to one of the women in this labyrinthine tale.
But let's start at the beginning of Fairstein's suspenseful and
complex mystery. The case begins with Paige Vallis, a rape victim
and hopeful rescuer of a little boy. While Ms. Vallis is adamant in
her accusation against Andrew Tripping, the crime solving team of
Cooper, Chapman and Mercer Wallace, the series' regulars, knows she
is holding back vital information: "It's going to be a tough
trial," muses one of the characters as testimony begins and just
before Vallis turns up dead.
Unfortunately Vallis is not the only rape victim who is murdered;
the other is a seemingly indigent eighty-two-year-old woman who
appeared to have been raped and then smothered to death with her
own pillow. Chapman takes Coop to the scene in the Harlem apartment
because he is outraged and wants answers he hopes she can give him.
Alexandra understands his frustration but admits she can't tell him
precisely what is behind this kind of assault.
As the investigation moves on, the identity of the Harlem victim is
uncovered. She is McQueen "Queenie" Ransome, a fan dancer who
didn't always use a fan: "In most of the images, there was nothing
between the body of McQueen Ransome and the lens of the camera."
Deeper digging is rewarded with the information that Queenie had
spent time in Egypt. She knew the king. Could she in some way be
connected to the Double Eagle?
The third case is that of Tiffany Gatts. "Statutory rape, [l]ittle
Tiffany only just turned sweet sixteen," said Chapman. But more
than that, her coat belongs to the dead old woman. What possible
connection could there be between these two people? How did Tiffany
gain ownership of the coat and what does she know about the murder,
Every mystery story is a puzzle. The conundrum at the center of THE
KILLS is: Are the murders and rapes connected in any way? If some
link exists between them, what is it and why did the killer strike
now? What secrets did each of the dead women take to her grave and
what does Tiffany know? How does the Double Eagle fit into any
scenario based on the events in the case?
Linda Fairstein, is the former head of the Manhattan Sex Crimes
Unit of the District Attorney's Office and was for twenty-five
years America's foremost prosecutor of crimes of sexual assault and
domestic violence. She traded in her badge for the "blank page" in
1996 when she published her first Alexandra Cooper mystery. THE
KILLS is her sixth book in the series and may be her best work to
date. Her novels are informed by the twenty-plus years she spent as
an ADA and they are infused with a certain snap, crackle and pop so
often lacking in police procedurals. Mystery fans can jump right
into this series without missing a beat. Enjoy!
(An aside: An ironic and interesting fact --- a current television
advertisement is offering gold prints of the American Double Eagle
coin in limited lots of five per order. They make no mention of
whether or not it is monetized.)
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 22, 2011