Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Linda Fairstein: Bad Blood (2007)

The ninth Alex Cooper mystery begins in the courtroom, where Alex is prosecuting businessman Brendan Quilley for arranging the murder of his wife. The case soon becomes swamped in drama, as the first prosecution witness is forced to reveal that she had slept with Quilley, making her testimony seem to be untrustworthy to the jury and effectively ruining Alex's case. Further complications - an explosion on a construction site killing Quilley's brother, possible links between Quilley and a cold case - quickly follow, and before the reader knows it, Alex is once again chasing bad guys through a strange piece of New York architecture. Where in previous books we've had the derelict institutions on Roosevelt Island, sites associated with Edgar Allan Poe, abandoned railways and remodelled theatres, this time it's tunnels.

The Alex Cooper mysteries belong to a subgenre of the police procedural crime novel in which the detective is someone involved with crime but not in a profession which usually undertakes investigation. Other examples include the Kathy Reichs novels which were the basis for the TV series Bones. While prosecutors do have a role in ensuring that police investigations remain within the law and obtain enough evidence to make a conviction possible, and I know that they have more involvement in the US system than in the UK, the amount to which Alex carries out the detecting seems unlikely to me.

I have now alluded to the biggest problems in Fairstein's series of novels. The implausibility of both the way in which Alex gets involved in her cases and of the situations in which she finds herself in the course of each stroy don't really register while reading the novels, as they carry the reader on fast enough and are involving enough to keep him or her from thinking about such things. The other main problem with the series is the similarity in ideas between the various novels - the quirky locations, the confrontations with the killer, the complicated personal life - are all repeated each time. This makes the first Alex Cooper novel, Final Jeopardy, by far the best. For the rest of them, including Bad Blood, the edge that Alex's specialisation in sex crimes gives to them marks them out from the herd, but otherwise they are basically well written but unremarkable.

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