Linda Fairstein Essay - Critical Essays


Linda Fairstein’s alter ego is her protagonist Alexandra “Alex” Cooper, a younger, thinner, blonder, but no less outspoken or dedicated version of the author. Like Fairstein, the workaholic Alex heads Manhattan’s Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit and is a passionate advocate for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Alex typically works with a pair of professional law enforcement officers: hard-as-nails detective Mike Chapman of the NYPD Homicide Squad and Lieutenant Mercer Wallace of the NYPD Special Victims Squad. The prosecutor and the police officers spend considerable time together on and off the job and, over the course of the series, become staunch friends. The three major protagonists are likable, making it easy for readers to root for them as they ferret out the scummy, devious criminals who inhabit Fairstein’s novels.

Alex Cooper debuted in Final Jeopardy; the title refers to Alex, Mike, and Mercer’s habit when working cases to place bets on which of them will come up with the question for the last answer on the popular television quiz show Jeopardy! (1964-1975, 1978-1979, beginning in 1984). With this novel, Fairstein established a number of conventions that have been followed in later novels in the series. First, she tells each story in first-person, past tense, from Alex Cooper’s viewpoint (not a surprising decision, since Alex reflects the impact and result of everyday occurrences from Fairstein’s thirty-year career as a prosecutor). Second, each of her stories contains at least one major thread surrounding a sex crime or a crime with a possible sexual subtext (a requirement, given the restrictions of the protagonist’s profession) and several lesser crimes, which crisscross in numerous and complicated plot twists before the final denouement. Third, each story offers Fairstein the opportunity to expound on New York’s historical or geographic features, with occasional excursions to the author’s (and protagonist’s) vacation home on Martha’s Vineyard. Fourth, every story will provide insights into police and legal procedures. Fifth, all stories will, at some point, put the heroine in peril—a departure from Fairstein’s actual experiences during her time with the District Attorney’s Office.

The first three of these conventions—the positive characterization of the main protagonist from her own viewpoint, the concentration on crimes of a sexual nature (while continually reminding readers of the heavy caseload under which sex crimes prosecutors labor), and a focus on local or regional landmarks in the course of an investigation—are the strongest hallmarks...

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