KILLER HEAT. By Linda Fairstein. Doubleday, 2008. 384 pages. $26 hardcover.
Killer Heat, like any good title, is a play on words. It refers to death by New York oven — the baking August temperatures that send the rich to the Hamptons or the Vineyard, and the poor to their fire escapes for a breath of nighttime air. Killer Heat is also a reference to an actual killer or killers and to the heat, slang for law, that hunts ’em down and brings ’em to justice.
Author Linda Fairstein, of Manhattan and Chilmark, is back with the tenth novel in her crime series starring the blond and brilliant and unstoppable Alex Cooper, assistant D.A. of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit in New York (a high profile position that Ms. Fairstein herself occupied for many years). It would be easy to say “she’s done it again,” but more than that, Ms. Fairstein has turned out her most compulsively readable saga in an already unput-downable oeuvre.
It’s not only steamingly hot in New York, but Alex is applying fresh heat to a cold case brought out from the deep freeze as she prepares to prosecute an aged serial rapist belatedly busted with recovered DNA. On a still more savage note, a modern-day serial rapist and killer is in the midst of a three-woman abduction spree. And finally on the crime front, a Latino gang leader whom Alex recently drop-kicked to Attica, has sent some scary hombres to disrupt the prosecutor in the courtroom and render her bodily harm in less public locations.
The action starts on an old ferry slip in lower Manhattan as Alex’s boon companion, homicide detective, Mike Chapman, lights up a Cohiba and invites Alex to take a few hits to stave off the stench of the corpse they’re about to view in an abandoned office. From this point on they’re off and running, joined by the final member of the crime-busting team, detective Mercer Wallace.
Fairstein understands, almost by second nature, that the plot has got to be an equal mixture of action, puzzlement, court dramatics and camaraderie of regulars. Unlike so many other police procedurals that bog down in too many chapters of too many officials interrogating too many suspects about their schedules, Fairstein keeps the chatter intermixed with jeopardy.
Each of the Alex Cooper series highlights some historical or cultural esoterica of New York — in Bad Blood it was subterranean water conduits, in Death Dance, the ballet world. In Killer Heat Fairstein brings to life the many islands and islets of New York city, some of them crowned with abandoned fortresses, and smothered with marshes, snakes and other wildlife, and tantalizing history.
Fairstein instructs us without lecturing, allowing her fictional authorities to elucidate and raise questions: How reliable is i.d. through DNA? How ethical but perhaps logical and merciful is this new system of bouncing highly recidivistic sex offenders to psychiatric units after they’ve completed full prison sentences?
So turn the fan to high and sprawl back with Killer Heat. Just know that you’re not going to be getting up from the couch until you’ve slicked back the last page.