Fairstein, Linda A. 1947(?)-

views updated

FAIRSTEIN, Linda A. 1947(?)-

PERSONAL: Born May 5, 1947 (one source says 1948), in Mt. Vernon, NY; daughter of Samuel Johnson (a physician) and Alice (a registered nurse; maiden name, Atwell) Fairstein; married Justin N. Feldman (a lawyer), May 2, 1987; children: three stepchildren. Education: Vassar College, A.B., 1969; University of Virginia School of Law, J.D., 1972. Religion: Jewish.

ADDRESSES: Office—P.O. Box 226, New York, NY 10021-0014. Agent—c/o Esther Newberg, International Creative Management, 40 West 57th St., New York, NY 10019.

CAREER: New York County District Attorney's Office, appointed to staff, 1972, chief of sex crimes prosecution unit, 1976-2002, deputy chief of trial division, 1981-2002; full-time writer and consultant to law enforcement agencies, 2002—. Member of the board of directors for several nonprofit organizations, including Mount Sinai Hospital Friends of the Rape Crisis Intervention Program, 1990—, New York Women's Agenda, 1993—, Phoenix House Foundation, 1994—, and Choice Cares (national advisory DNA project). Member of Governor Cuomo's Task Force on Rape, 1989-92; cochair of New York Women's Agenda Domestic Violence Committee, 1993—; member of President Clinton's Violence against Women Advisory Council, 1995; member of American Bar Association National Conference of Lawyers and Representatives of the Media, 1995—. National Lecturer on such topics as violence against women, domestic violence, and aspects of the criminal justice system to professional organizations, colleges and universities, health-care professionals, and women's groups.

MEMBER: Women's Bar Association, American College of Trial Lawyers, Federal Bar Council (member of Board of Trustees, 1993—), Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, New York Women's Forum, Association of the Bar of the City of New York (Judiciary committee member, 1985-88; Legal Issues affecting Crime Victims committee member, 1993—).

AWARDS, HONORS: Emory Buckner Award, Federal Bar Council, 1991, for distinguished public service; First Distinguished Alumna Award, University of Virginia Women's Center, 1991; "Life of the City Award," New York Woman, 1991; named one of twenty "Outstanding Young Lawyers" who make a difference, American Bar Association, 1991; "Woman of Achievement Award," American Association of University Women, 1992, for outstanding achievement in the legal profession; Proskauer Award, United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, Lawyers Division, 1992, for distinguished public service; Woman of the Year Award, Glamour, 1993, for publication of Sexual Violence: Our War against Rape; Woman of the Year Award, New Woman, 1993; 1994 Achievement Award, National Women's Political Caucus; Woman of the Year Award, Women's Projects and Productions, 1994; Public Figure Leadership Award, Older Women's League, 1994; Distinguished Woman of the Year Award, Boy Scouts of America, 1994; Women's Focus Award, Central Synagogue, 1996; International Woman of Achievement Award, Soroptomists, 1996; Sexual Violence was named a New York Times notable book of the year; Humanitarian Award, National Conference of Christians and Jews, 1996.



Final Jeopardy, Scribner (New York, NY), 1996.

Likely to Die, Scribner (New York, NY), 1997.

Cold Hit, Scribner (New York, NY), 1999.

The Deadhouse, Scribner (New York, NY), 2001.

The Bone Vault, Scribner (New York, NY), 2003.

The Kills, Scribner (New York, NY), 2004.


Sexual Violence: Our War against Rape, Morrow (New York, NY), 1993.

ADAPTATIONS: Final Jeopardy was made into a television film starring Dana Delaney and aired on ABC-TV in 2001. The Alex Cooper mysteries are available as abridged audio recordings.

SIDELIGHTS: With over twenty-five years as head of the New York City District Attorney's sex crimes unit, Linda A. Fairstein has used her wealth of experience about criminal activities, police procedure, and the impact of crime on victims to create the popular Alex Cooper mystery series. She was well known as a prosecutor before turning to fiction, however, using new scientific techniques and increased cooperation with police investigators to improve New York's conviction rate for sexual crimes. She led the teams that prosecuted many high profile criminal cases, including the "Preppie Murder" of Jennifer Levin and the shocking beating and rape of the Central Park Jogger. Working in the sex crimes unit "wasn't something I planned to do, or even particularly wanted to do," Fairstein told Benedicte Page in the Bookseller. "But I became thoroughly fascinated by and challenged by the work. It became a passion."

That passion informs Fairstein's first book, the nonfiction study Sexual Violence: Our War against Rape. Fairstein drew on her experience as head of the Sex Crimes Unit to write an account of actual crimes, combined with descriptions of the horrors of rape and the progress of the law. While presenting actual cases, Fairstein describes the response of her coworkers as they defend victims and pursue the criminals. In addition, Fairstein portrays rape for the violent crime that it is, whether it is committed by a total stranger or a known acquaintance of the victim. Washington Post Book World contributor Elizabeth Fox-Genovese observed that "the finest quality of this book lies in the author's ability to sustain a balance between her feelings as a woman and her professional loyalty to co-workers whom she obviously respects." Susan Estrich declared in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that Fairstein "has written a smart, serious, interesting book." One of the "remarkable" things about Sexual Violence is that "we're in the presence here of a genuinely unassuming and dedicated public servant who will not be discouraged," Ann Jones concluded in the Women's Review of Books. "In her spare time, Fairstein has written the kind of book that makes you want to shake her hand and then get to work."

Following the success of her first publication, Fairstein tried her hand at fiction. As she once told CA: "For me, the series of crime novels is an extraordinary opportunity to inform readers about the criminal justice system and to entertain them at the same time." In addition, as she revealed to Page, "I did think when I set out to do it that what I could bring to the genre was the authenticity of the work, both procedurally and, in a sense, emotionally. I wanted to put these crimes in fiction without tabloidizing, and I do explain how the system is meant to work and how the victim recovers and show she is treated in the criminal justice system."

Fairstein's debut novel, 1996's Final Jeopardy, presents New York Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cooper; she, like her creator, is in charge of prosecuting sex crimes. When a friend staying at Alex's house on Martha's Vineyard is found dead, the young attorney finds herself questioning if she was really the target of the crime. Fairstein "brings to her exciting first novel the same passions and insights into the criminal and crime-busting minds that marked her memoir, Sexual Violence," asserted a Publishers Weekly critic. Library Journal contributor Charles Michaud similarly observed, "This thriller, which will keep readers asking questions and turning pages, has the potential to be one of the summer's big hits."

Alex returned for a second outing in 1997's Likely to Die. The victim in this case is a prominent Manhattan neurosurgeon who is found dead in her own office. In working the case with detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace, Alex explores the underside of hospital life, with its records rooms, underground tunnels, and visitors from all walks of life. A Publishers Weekly critic faulted the novel's "minimal suspense" and "pedantic lecturing," but also observed that when Fairstein "sticks to the basics of these cases and the prosecutorial and police procedures used to handle them, she writes with an authority that crime buffs will relish." Library Journal contributor Molly Gorman also remarked on "a documentary feel that slows the narrative," but added that Fairstein's expertise creates "a world so real, its brittle police babble and mounting suspense make the pages crackle." "With its taut plot and classy setting," J. D. Reed concluded in People, "Likely to Die is an uptown act."

Fairstein's 1999 novel Cold Hit was also lauded by critics. "This fast-paced novel opens with a murder and rolls along from one plot twist to another: everything from the standard greed and revenge to unscrupulous art dealers trafficking in art treasures stolen by Nazis," as Vanessa Bush summarized it in Booklist. Though Library Journal contributor Gorman found the "frequent explanations of police procedures . . . jarring," she nonetheless called the novel "fascinating and fast paced."

One of New York City's most unusual landmarks was the inspiration for 2001's The Deadhouse: Roosevelt Island, which housed a smallpox sanitarium in the nineteenth century. When professor Lola Dakota is found murdered, the primary suspect is Lola's abusive husband. Alex's investigation, however, reveals Lola had other enemies and was also involved in an archeological dig on Roosevelt Island. Fairstein "once again treats readers to the companionable friendship between Alex and Mike," Booklist's Bush observed, "as well as the intricacies of a murder investigation and the fascinating history of a long-forgotten part of New York history and geography." A Kirkus Reviews critic found Alex's "gooey love affair" with a news correspondent distracting, but also noted that when Alex is "going about her daily prosecutorial chores, the result is authoritative and interesting." As a Publishers Weekly writer similarly concluded, "Fairstein weaves present and past woes to good effect, while her focus on Roosevelt Island will intrigue New Yorkers who know little about its shameful former uses."

Alex Cooper's next outing drew on Fairstein's fondness for two of New York's great institutions: the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Natural History. "My earliest childhood recollections were of coming to visit these two museums," the author told Diana Pinckley in the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "I was curious to get behind the scenes." In 2003's The Bone Vault, Alex's attendance at a joint museum reception turns into another day at the office when a young woman is found dead in a sarcophagus. While investigating the case, Alex learns more about the unseen side of museum life, including the storage basements and attics that contain most of the museums' collections—including the Museum of Natural History's collection of fifty million human bones. The book also pays tribute to the heroes of September 11, 2001, as Alex witnesses the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center from her office—which, like Fairstein's, was only ten blocks away from Ground Zero. In an emotional scene, Alex's friend and frequent collaborator, police investigator Mike Chapman, stops at her apartment after witnessing the loss of many of his fellow police officers. The resulting "romantic tension, the fast-paced plotting, and the New York setting will keep fans of Fairstein's series engrossed," Vanessa Bush observed in Booklist.

Other reviewers were similarly impressed with Fairstein's intriguing behind-the-scenes portrayal of New York landmarks. "The real stars are the museums themselves," Eugen Weber observed in the Los Angeles Times Book Review, adding that this "turbocharged mystery" supplies "a chilling puzzle." While Library Journal contributor Rebecca House Stankowski found Alex's character "fastidious and stilted," she noted that the "fast pacing, colorful suspects, and museum settings" made for "fun reading." A Kirkus Reviews critic noted that the author's museum settings help distinguish The Bone Vault from other mystery thrillers: "the fearless plunge into the dirty waters of museum politics suggests that Fairstein . . . may have found her own voice at last."

In her sixth Alex Cooper mystery, 2004's The Kills, Fairstein again shows Alex involved in several investigations—a hallmark of the series. "One of my pet peeves in mystery novels is when the big case falls on the prosecutor's or cop's desk, you can work on it 24/7," the author told Pinckley. "In my job, if a murder happens, I still have a 46-case caseload. That's why I love to have Alex and the cops working on many things at once." In The Kills, Alex finds that a man accused of rape and child abuse has a tangled history that ties him to a murdered former World War II spy and dancer. A Publishers Weekly critic noted that the complexity of Alex's caseload adds "texture and realism" to the novel and concluded that "Fairstein's style and skills have matured over the years, making this a consistently dependable series with a likable and intelligent heroine."



Booklist, May 1, 1997, Emily Melton, review of Likely to Die, p. 1460; August, 1999, Vanessa Bush, review of Cold Hit, p. 1985; August, 2001, Bush, review of The Deadhouse, p. 2050; November 15, 2002, Bush, review of The Bone Vault, p. 547.

Bookseller, September 20, 2002, Benedicte Page, "The Prosecutor's Case," p. 26.

Entertainment Weekly, July 19, 1996, Erica Cardozo, review of Final Jeopardy, p. 71.

Interview, June, 1989, Ed Hayes and Karen Kuehn, "Law Be a Lady," p. 48.

Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2001, review of The Deadhouse, p. 1069; October 15, 2002, review of The Bone Vault, p. 1506.

Library Journal, April 15, 1996, Charles Michaud, review of Final Jeopardy, p. 121; May 1, 1997, Molly Gorman, review of Likely to Die, p. 138; August, 1999, Gorman, review of Cold Hit, p. 146; December, 2002, Rebecca House Stankowski, review of The Bone Vault, p. 177.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, December 19, 1993, Susan Estrich, review of Sexual Violence: Our War against Rape, pp. 1, 15; June 15, 2003, Eugen Weber, review of The Bone Vault, p. 13.

New York Times, September 16, 1993, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Sexual Violence, p. B2.

New York Times Book Review, September 19, 1993, Lynn Karpen, "Taking It Personally" (interview), p. 1.

New York Times Sunday Magazine, February 25, 1990, Katherine Bouton, "Linda Fairstein vs. Rape," p. 20.

People, July 8, 1996, Pam Lambert, "Double Trouble," p. 28; August 25, 1997, J. D. Reed, review of Likely to Die, p. 38.

Publishers Weekly, April 1, 1996, review of FinalJeopardy, p. 50; May 12, 1997, review of Likely to Die, p. 57; Sept 3, 2001, review of The Deadhouse, p. 67; October 21, 2002, review of The Bone Vault, p. 53; October 13, 2003, review of The Kills, p. 54.

Time, October 14, 1991, Margaret Carlson, "The Trials of Convicting Rapists" (interview), p. 11.

Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA), February 15, 2003, Diana Pinckley, "Murder at the Museum," p. E1. Washington Post Book World, January 16, 1994, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, "Fighting Back," p. 5.

Women's Review of Books, January, 1994, Ann Jones, review of Sexual Violence, p. 14.


Linda Fairstein Home Page,www.lindafairstein.com/ (October 24, 2003).*

About this article

Fairstein, Linda A. 1947(?)-

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article


Fairstein, Linda A. 1947(?)-