Written by Linda Fairstein — Have you ever been lucky enough to take a tour with a Blue Badge guide? I once toured Covent Garden with one, and they tell you all kinds of little snippets that you’d never find in a guide book, really bringing history to life. Reading Death Angel left me feeling the same way, because through its pages I found out fact after fact about New York’s Central Park. In truth, this author has done so much background research that she deserves a blue badge all her own.
Fairstein already knows the Big Apple well. For three decades, she served in the office of the New York County District Attorney, where she was chief of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit, and this is her 15th novel featuring New York-based Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper, so I suppose it was about time she set a crime in Central Park, at the very heart of the city.
The partially decomposed, naked body of a young woman is found under Bow Bridge, close to the park’s centrepiece, Bethesda Terrace and the Angel of the Waters. The area is a tourist magnet, so how and when was the body dumped, and by whom? Alex and Detective Mike Chapman are on the clock – and have little to go on – until two silver models of Central Park landmarks and the model of a black angel are discovered nearby. The three items send them on an investigation that takes them to both ends of the social spectrum, from the city’s homeless to a mega-wealthy family whose last remaining member owns, and lives on, a complete floor of The Dakota, one of New York’s most prestigious buildings.
Along the way the reader is treated to a factoid fest about the Park and what lies beneath it. For example, did you know that there are three cemeteries under Central Park, and that Seneca Village, the first significant community of African American property owners to be created in Manhattan, was destroyed to create the park? Some of the facts and figures bandied about are amazing, so much so that I would break off from reading to share a nugget or two with my husband. It proved a distraction for him, and ultimately, for me too.
I learned so much from Death Angel. The Seneca Village was new to me, and I also hadn’t heard of Day and Mayer, Murray and Young, the warehouse of the rich which is given a telling scene all to itself. After finishing the book I did an internet search and found all of the details about it in Fairstein’s book are indeed true.
Death Angel features murder, a maverick judge, mental illness and even an unsolved kidnapping, but the star of Death Angel is Central Park, and I imagine even seasoned New Yorkers would be hard pushed to have visited it as extensively as we readers do as the story unfolds. Which leads me to my main criticism of the book: so much of it is devoted to scenery, facts and figures that the murder case and associated investigations become something of a bit player to the park’s starring role. I’ve read a few Alexandra Cooper books, but I’m sorry to say that I wouldn’t rate Death Angel among the best. I’d have preferred less detail and more drama.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars