On a cold January day, prosecutor Alexandra Cooper finds herself on a beach watching the fallout from the wreck of a Ukrainian ship smuggling human cargo to serve as laborers and prostitutes. As bodies are recovered, she learns of another problem, this one political: a DUI involving a married New York congressman accused of having an affair—and a child—with a Mexican beauty. The two events seem to have little in common, except that the political pressure on Cooper to investigate the second interferes with the first. But as she and her police friends Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace investigate both cases, the links between them become clearer and more deadly.
Linda Fairstein worked in the Sex Crimes Unit in Manhattan for twenty-five years and brings her experience of both investigation and the back-room politics that probably characterize any large city but seem particularly evident in New York. As Cooper investigates the human smuggling, she is not so much stymied by criminals as by her own boss, the district attorney, and the mayor, who are more concerned with their own political futures than with catching the bad guys.
Hell Gate is Fairstein’s twelfth Alexandra Cooper novel, and long-time fans will not be disappointed. Alexandra, Mike, and Mercer serve as a moral filter for New York politics; they are aware of the risks and play the game within reason (except perhaps for Mike Chapman, who gets threatened with demotion every so often) but they maintain their belief in the sanctity of their jobs. They are aware of the system but never get beaten down by it.
Fairstein crafts strong characters with interesting quirks. Mike Chapman, a history buff, always catches the final Jeopardy question on television and is good for a quick history lesson as New York politics make the past relevant to the current case. He can also be counted on to be a thorn in the side of self-important politicians, as the mayor finds out: “Congressmen, governors, prosecutors, mayors, police commissioners. They don’t necessarily look like common criminals, to answer your question,” Chapman tells him. “But just like the river, sir, things aren’t always what they seem to be.”
There are several unlikely connections in the novel. As Alexandra points out, “It wasn’t likely that a Ukrainian refugee and a Mexican—well, I don’t know what to call Salma any more—would have the same tattoo. It wasn’t likely that half the legislators in this city would have phantom funds or that our congressman would have a phantom family. This case is all about things that aren’t likely.” In fact, readers will be forgiven if they wonder how Fairstein could possibly tie everything together at the end. But tie them up she does, and in a chilling and satisfying way that left this reader hoping for many more Alexandra Cooper novels to come.
Linda Fairstein will sign Hell Gate at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Memphis on March 19 at 6 p.m.