RogerBW's Blog

Silent Mercy, Linda Fairstein 16 September 2014

Thirteenth in Fairstein's contemporary mystery series about Alexandra Cooper, sex crimes prosecutor in Manhattan. When a burned, decapitated body is found on the steps of a church that used to be a synagogue, there could be any number of reasons. When a second body is found at another church, things start to come together.

I read the first twelve of these in 2010-2011, before I started writing reviews; I'm now catching up with what's been published since. Fairstein of course was famously head of the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's office from 1976 until 2002 (spanning a fairly huge change in attitude to rape victims), and one must assume that much of the material here is either drawn from the life or drawn from the way she wishes life could have been: after all, a couple of high-profile prosecutions led by Fairstein have been reversed when she turned out to have exceeded the limits in the matter of picking a suspect and then going for him even in the absence of evidence. (Yeah, I know, rape is notoriously tricky in this regard.) Alex Cooper may annoy suspects, but never goes after the wrong man, and the evidence is always there to be found eventually.

It does feel like a book of two halves: the first half, or perhaps two-thirds, is standard investigative stuff, hearing about evidence and interviewing witnesses and possible suspects. The latter section suddenly shifts into action mode, with a dramatic finale. It's a bit of a sharp change of pace, and seems unnecessary to the plot.

Cooper's long-term lover Luc is largely off-stage, and it feels as though he's put in just to remind the reader that he still exists. The book really belongs to Cooper and the cop Mike Chapman, whose abrasiveness is slightly toned down this time; his partner Mercer is barely here.

As has usually happened in this series, there are other ongoing cases mentioned: both of them have started before this one, and neither is really brought to a conclusion. As a result of that, they feel more like padding.

Less like padding, even if they probably are really, are the lectures on the history of New York, in this case largely in a religious context; like Ben Aaronovitch in London, Fairstein gives the impression of really loving the city. All right, they aren't as well-integrated and do sometimes come off as the author saying "enough of that plot stuff, let me tell you about…"; they were interesting enough to me that I didn't mind.

The identity of the killer is a little on the fantastical side and motivation is frankly shaky, and I didn't feel Fairstein really gave out sufficient true information among the legitimate false leads, but I still found the book enjoyable. Probably not a place to start the series, though.

Followed by Night Watch.

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