In 1997, Linda Fairstein found one of the most winning formulas in crime fiction — a historic New York City location combined with a contemporary murder investigation — and she has used it to spin 15 wonderful novels.
The 16th book, “Terminal City” (Dutton) will be published on Tuesday, and it might be the best entry yet in her tales of assistant district attorney Alex Cooper.
Fairstein has finally gotten around to one of the greatest buildings in Manhattan — Grand Central Terminal — and as you might expect, the vast above- and below-ground landmark lends itself to almost endless investigation.
For those of us who have lost count of how many hours we’ve spent at GCT, the book provides a great tour of places we could never gain access to, from the tunnels where homeless “moles” live, to the nooks and crannies high above the terminal where people change the light bulbs in the ceiling.
There’s a wonderful Alfred Hitchcock element in this thriller, which has a climax the great director would have loved, set in around that magnificent statue and clock on the 42nd Street side of GCT (Fairstein also reminds us that Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” was the first movie shot inside the terminal).
“Terminal City” opens with a baffling murder in the Waldorf-Astoria — a young woman (not a registered guest or employee) is found with her throat cut in one of the suites. The more that Cooper and her detective partners Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace look into the case, the odder it becomes, as it appears that the victim was drugged elsewhere and brought to the hotel for some sort of ritual killing.
Two more murders move the case to Grand Central but, as Cooper learns, the Waldorf-Astoria is literally linked to GCT by a tunnel that was used to transport President Franklin Roosevelt in and out of the hotel when it was known as “the New York White House” because of the number of times he stayed there.
Fairstein has learned how to perfectly balance the mix of characterization, murder plots, and historical details that make her books stand apart from a very crowded field of top notch thriller writers.
I never visit Bryant Park without thinking about the stacks of books that are stored under it — something I learned from reading Fairstein’s 2009 novel, “Lethal Legacy,” set in and around the New York Public Library — and I doubt that I will look at GCT in quite the same way after savoring “Terminal City.”