The Magazine for Crime & Mystery



Val McDermid Interview

Nevada Barr on writing HUNTING SEASON plus an excerpt

Paul Doherty's short story THE KYRIE MAN

Stark Contrasts Michael Carlson examines the pulp fiction of Richard Stark

Have you got what it takes to be a Writer? by Fiona Shoop

It Could Only Happen in Hollywood

The Deadhouse

Linda Fairstein

Little Brown, £9.99

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Reviewed by Ayo Onatade

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The Deadhouse is a building both hauntingly and dramatically beautiful. The old Smallpox Hospital sits on a small island off Manhattan and provides a chilling background to Linda Fairstein's latest book of the same name. It seems that many years ago the island was used to keep New York's undesirables away from the rest of the city's population. At one time or another prisoners, people who were destitute and insane or victims of contagious diseases such as smallpox, were restricted to institutions on the island.

It's the run up to Christmas in New York City and Lola Dakota (a rather unfortunate choice of name!) has put up with a lot from her abusive spouse Ivan Kralovic. She finally agrees to work with the New Jersey District Attorney's office in order for him to be put behind bars once and for all. Dakota until her demise was a brilliant and distinguished professor of political science as well as being an acknowledged expert on the history and politics of New York City. The police set up a sting operation and Ivan is arrested when he pays the undercover police officers after they show him a videotape of her "supposed" death. Regrettably, Lola's body is found later that day in the elevator shaft of her Manhattan apartment building. Even though the police declare it a homicide Assistant District Attorney Alex Cooper thinks otherwise. Things just do not add up. Having helped keep Lola safe from Ivan over the last two years Cooper has acquired an insight into the professor's secret and complex nature.

The late professor had a number of enemies and these included a number of members of her own faculty. Moreover a note with the words "The Deadhouse" is found in Lola's pocket. Cooper has not much to go on apart from the note, but the link to foul play emerges when the picture of a student Charlotte Voight (who disappeared earlier) is found pinned on her notice board in her office. However, what did they both have to do with the Deadhouse, the infamous Roosevelt Island site where smallpox patients went to die in the 19th century? An added obstacle is the fact that Lola was working on a historical project, an architectural dig on the island. The late professor and her colleagues are using tools of urban archaeology to unearth some of the island's secrets. Could this work somehow be linked to her death? Cooper, working with detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace, soon uncover a distressing pattern of betrayal and terror as well as confronting unwilling suspects and uncooperative university officials.

The Deadhouse wastes no time in gripping you and the author's experience as a prosecutor of sex crimes resonates from the book. These books has a lot of strengths, which can be seen from the line-up of suspects to the other characters that may also have had a motivation either for committing the murder, or for helping someone else cover it up. It also raises some very interesting questions about the issues of domestic abuse and how it is dealt with, especially some of the problems inherent in the criminal justice system. It also showed how the district attorney's office and the police department work closely together while trying to find the perpetrator of a homicide. The ending kept me on a knife-edge of suspense, the murderer was revealed, but not before Cooper nearly loses her life. I only wish that she would do something about that latent passion that is constantly simmering between Cooper and Chapman. I am sure that Chapman would make a better boyfriend than some of the earlier one's that Cooper has had.

This novel also brought to my attention facets of New York City that I was unaware existed. I found The Deadhouse to be a particular engrossing tale of modern-day murder mystery that also had a link with yesterday's intriguing past. Furthermore, while the detail and apparent realism that informs the reader of the business of being a sex crimes DA is present, unlike the Scarpetta series one is not overwhelmed with information.

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