{short description of image}


Linda Fairstein

Reviewed by Philip Gooden

For the last 30 years Linda Fairstein has run the Sex Crimes Unit of the District Attorney's Office in Manhattan, and from the writer's selfish point of view it would be hard to think of more productive source material. The Bone Vault is the fifth novel to feature Alexandra Cooper. Cooper occupies a similar sort of position to her creator's in a DA's office. She has a marginal love or sex life (which the author seems quite glad to dispose of in the early part of the novel), but can josh with the guys like any feisty heroine these days. The poisoned body of Katrina Grooten, a museum researcher, is discovered in an Egyptian sarcophagus awaiting loading in the Newark docks. The body, and the sarcophagus, have come from the Metropolitan Museum. It soon becomes apparent that Katrina's murderer will be discovered among the mostly academic administrators and curators either at the Metropolitan or the Natural History Museum. This closed circle of suspects gives an attractively old-fashioned air to the novel, reinforced by frequent references to the musty, shadowed world of New York museums. Fairstein has done her research. The unusual setting is one of the story's strengths, and the motives for the murder are distinctly unusual. Another bonus is the absence of a serial killer, despite the ominous note struck by the title and the even more ominous endorsement by Patricia Cornwell on the cover. Also enjoyable are the side glimpses into other investigations which Coop has on her hands: the trapping of a paedophile on the internet, the arrest of a sadistic lawyer, among other cases. Although not developable into a full-length narrative these sometimes threaten to be more interesting than the Grooten case, which is unravelled through a lengthy series of interviews and which climaxes in one of those police sieges which are all sound, fury and potential film rights. This is the first Fairstein novel I¹ve read, and I¹m not sure whether I would read another. Cooper is a curiously impersonal narrator for all the attempts to give her a background and a life apart, on Martha's Vineyard. She is supported by a pair of cops who are abrasive (white) or thoughtful (black), and is being pursued by a female stalker. This may be par for the course but in one respect The Bone Vault breaks new ground. It must be one of the first mystery novels to feature an eye-witness description of 9/11 and to work it quite effectively into the narrative.