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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

It’s August in New York, and the only thing that’s hotter than the pavement is Manhattan D.A. Alex Cooper’s professional and personal life. Just as she’s claiming an especially gratifying victory in a rape case, she gets the call: The body of a young woman has been found in an abandoned building. The brutality of the murder is disturbing enough, but when a second body, beaten and disposed of in exactly the same manner, is found off the Belt Parkway, the city’s top brass want the killer found fast, before the tabloids can start churning out ghoulish serial killer headlines.

Between dodging the bullets of the gang members who are infuriated by Alex’s most recent courtroom victory and keeping a rendezvous with a charming restaurateur, a serial killer on the loose is the last thing she needs on her plate right now. Then a third victim is found, and it becomes clear to Alex and her team that time is not on their side.

Through Alex’s peerless interrogation skills–and one big break–the search becomes focused on someone who has a twisted obsession with the military. Once again Linda Fairstein brilliantly orchestrates a gripping mix of cutting-edge legal issues and forensics, New York City history, and spine-tingling suspense.


From the Compact Disc edition.

Excerpt

ONE


Mike Chapman bit into the tip of a Cohiba and held the match to the end of his thick cigar, drawing several deep breaths to make certain it was lighted.

"Take a few hits, Coop," he said, passing it to me.

I shook my head.

"The stench from that corpse is going to stay in your brain for weeks unless you infuse it right away with something more powerful. Why do you think I've always got a couple of these in my pocket?"

I took the cigar from Mike and rolled it between my fingers.

"Don't look at the damn thing. Smoke it. That broad's been decomposing for days in an empty room during a summer heat wave. Wrap your lips around that sucker and inhale till the smoke comes through your nose and ears, and maybe even from between your toes."

I put it to my lips, coughing as the harsh tobacco taste filled my mouth and lungs. There were no overhead lights above the concrete barriers we sat on at the intersection of South Street and Whitehall, which dead-ended at the East River, near the southernmost tip of Manhattan. "There's no air out here. Not even a breeze off the water."

"Almost midnight and it's still ninety-seven degrees. She's cooking in that room," Mike said, tossing his head in the direction of the crime scene that he'd been working for the last three hours. His black hair glistened with sweat, and the perspiration on his shirt made the cotton cloth cling to his chest. "Whatever body parts were left intact will be fried by the time they bag her."

"Are you going with the guys to the morgue?" I asked.

"Might be the coolest place in town tonight. You into refrigerated boxes?"

"I'll pass. Are they almost done?"

"The ME was ready to call it quits when the maggot maven showed up."

The putrefaction of the woman's body, which had been left to rot in the abandoned government offices over the old ferry slip, offered an irresistible opportunity to swarms of summer flies, which entered to lay their eggs and leave their offspring to nourish themselves on her flesh.

The blast of the horn from the Staten Island Ferry, its giant orange hull sliding out of the pier from the enormous modern terminal just twenty yards downriver, startled me. We were half a mile south of the bustling marketplace that had once been the South Street Seaport, flanking the glittering towers of Wall Street, outside what seemed like the only building in the downtown area that had been neglected alongside the water's flotsam and jetsam.

I stood up from the concrete barrier and looked over my shoulder at the entrance to the deserted slips--three vaulted openings that led to the water, supporting a raised porch and the offices in which the body had been found, centered between forty-foot-tall columns that faced Whitehall. Crumbling wooden pilings bordered the walkway behind me, while trash floated and bobbed among the large rocks in the water ten feet below.

"Jumpy already?" Mike smiled at me as he held the open collar of his shirt between his thumb and forefinger, waving it back and forth as though the cloth might actually dry out despite the oppressive humidity. "You don't even know what happened to her yet."

"Has he got any ideas about how long the woman's been dead?" The cigar smoke filtered up through my nostrils, overwhelming the pungent odor of death.

"Bug juice, Madam Prosecutor. The good Dr. Magorski likes to bring this whole thing down to when he figures the flies laid the maggots which finished feasting and then sat on the floorboards and pupated. He's picking up the pupal cases to take to his lab. It's a slow process," Mike said, dismissing the expert with a flip of his hand.

The forensic entomologist had been called to the scene by the young medical examiner who first responded to the detectives' notification. I had watched Magorski work several other cases, clipping a pair of lenses that looked like tiny microscopes over his thick eyeglasses while he scoured the body and its surroundings for signs of insect life--with its predictable cycles that might help establish a time of death.

"I understand. But do you think he's useful?"

"I want you to keep puffing on that thing till you turn a pale shade of green."

"I feel like I'm coming up on chartreuse," I said, brushing wisps of damp hair off my forehead with the back of my hand.

"Personally, I think he's a waste of resources. Is she dead more than a week? Yeah. Less than two? My money's on that. The only reason everybody south of Forty-second Street didn't notice the odor is because this place is so isolated, except for the decaying fish remains and sewage right below where she was found."

"That's still a pretty big window of opportunity."

"Once we ID the broad, it won't take long for some joker to tell us the last time she showed up at work or a girlfriend to say what domestic tiff sped her out the door of her apartment. Stick with real detective work, kid. I never met a bug with a gold shield."

I had seen more than my share of bodies as the prosecutor in charge of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit in the Manhattan District Attorney's Office for the last decade. The black humor of many cops and colleagues, an effort to defuse these ugly situations, did nothing to ease my revulsion.

"Hey, Chapman," a rookie in uniform called out to Mike from the porch of the old ferry slip. "They're bringing her out now. You and Ms. Cooper can come back up."

On the roadway opposite the aging terminal, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive sank below ground to loop under the Battery and reemerge as the West Side Highway. The far side of the tunnel entrance, dozens of glass and steel office towers--many of their windows still lit--formed the dense, narrow canyons of the city's financial district.

"Sorry to drag you down here. I really thought it might be your girl," Mike said. He knew I had been assigned to an unsolved case involving a young woman who'd gone missing the week before.

We watched as the MEs van backed into the loading dock and the attendant opened the rear doors, ready to receive the body bag.

"Looked like a good possibility till the wig came off and we realized her hair wasn't red," he went on.

Mike was a second-grade detective assigned to the Manhattan North Homicide Squad. His usual turf stretched from north of Fifty-ninth Street, uptown through the Harlems and the Heights to the narrow waterway that separated the island from the Bronx. But the end of summer, despite the spike in murders that usually accompanied a dramatic rise in the temperature, was also the time many cops took their vacation. The two squads, now short of manpower in late August, combined forces to respond to every murder in Manhattan.

We stopped talking when four men--one from the medical examiner's office and three uniformed officers from the First Precinct--emerged from the dark mouth of the building with their charge. There were no other spectators, no need for them to walk as though they were pallbearers, struggling to balance the coffin. The foursome loped along with the body, heaving it onto the stretcher inside the van, jerking it from side to side to position it before they strapped it into place for the ride up the drive to the morgue.

"None of these 'ologists' can help with the more important questions," Mike said as the driver slammed the double doors. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his handkerchief, then passed it to me. "Who the hell is she? What brought her to this godforsaken place? Why hasn't anybody noticed she was out of commission before tonight? What kind of monster am I looking for? I can't even think straight it's so hot."

"No other missing-person reports?" I pressed the damp cloth to the back of my neck.

"Nothing that fits. Two African-American women--one from the Bronx and the other a chronic runaway from Queens--an Asian tourist, an old lady with dementia who hasn't come home in a week, but definitely a blue-rinse dye job. Your case is the only one that seemed a possible match."

As the assistant district attorney who supervised sex crimes, I had partnered with Mike for more than a decade. I was at my desk in the criminal courthouse when he called me several hours earlier, asking for more details about the physical description of the twenty-two-year-old woman--Elise Huff--who had gone missing more than a week earlier. The investigation had been handed to me two days after her disappearance by my boss, Paul Battaglia, now in his fifth term as Manhattan's district attorney.

"Elise is a redhead. Natural."

She had disappeared after a night of barhopping with a girlfriend, who split from her at 3:00 a.m. when she had been unable to convince Elise to go home. Elise's parents had pressed their congressman, in Tennessee, to lean on Battaglia to ramp up the search for their daughter, assuming that she might have been the target of a sexual predator.

"That's why I called you out. This one," Mike said, pointing at the taillights of the van that carried the woman away, "was a redhead when I showed up, till the medical examiner rolled her face to the side and the damn wig fell off."

The synthetic auburn mane had been straight, lustrous, and obviously expensive when I looked at it earlier with the aid of Mike's flashlight. It had covered a shock of short curly hair--dark brown--the only distinguishable feature still visible on the head and body.

Mike took the cigar from me as we walked under the archway and back into the terminal, toward the staircase. His cheeks hollowed as he sucked in several deep breaths before handing it back. "Inhale once more, Coop."

Climbing the steps behind Mike, I smiled at his constant attempts to protect me from the more horrific parts of our job. Hal Sherman was setting up the battery-run lighting system that would allow him to take dozens more photographs of the grim room from which the body had been removed. Within the confines of this space--no more than thirty feet long and twenty wide--the Crime Scene Unit investigators would look for any speck of evidence that might lead to an identification of the victim, her killer, and whatever connection linked them to each other.

"So what's the weapon?" Mike asked.

"Maybe the butt of a gun caused the fracture. Maybe a hammer. The autopsy'll tell you more than I can." Hal put a ruler on the floor, next to what looked like a bloodstain, before he leaned over to snap his picture.

The young ME was certain that the woman had died from a blunt force injury, an impact that had depressed a portion of her skull on the left temple and caused the fatal damage to her brain.

"You make anything of the marks on her face?"

"Yeah. Scope the personals for a guy who likes to dance. Too bad there wasn't much skin left. The bastard must have stomped on her face after he whacked her. I don't know if there's enough of a pattern to get a shoe print, but I shot it from every angle."

I stood still while Mike geared up again--rubber gloves and booties--to go back over every crevice of the dusty room.

"And when uniform arrived?"

"Obliterated everything on the stairs," Hal said, sweeping his arm around the room, then wiping his moustache with his sleeve, "and all over the place."

The glass in each of the five windows that faced the river was shattered, much like the bones of the dead woman's face.

"You guys find anything?" Mike asked the two cops who had been assisting Hal.

"Double-checking. Nothing so far except this--I don't know--looks like a knotted strip of leather. Like the end of a key chain or something." One of them held up a two-inch piece of rawhide.

"This guy was good," the other said. "Must have had lots of time. Maybe even got away clean."

Each man had examined half of the room, and now they switched positions to go over the other's territory. Mike stepped around Hal and stood behind an old wooden desk. He opened the four drawers, flashing his light into them and slamming them shut.

"Government offices. Seems like whoever winds up designing stuff for the city has to take a course in how to make it look dismal."

"What agency was this?" I asked.

"Ports and Terminals."

Three chairs with broken backs lined the far wall. Mike lifted each one and replaced it. He moved toward several crates piled in a corner.

"Don't bother, Chapman. They're as empty as your pockets."

"What did you think about those lines on her wrists?" Mike was crouched on the floor now, measuring the coating of dust with a gloved finger.

"Some kind of ligature. Maybe even cuffs. Hey, Alexandra, you want to wave that cigar around. Where did you get such a good one, Mike?" Hal asked, sniffing the air.

"Coop's boss. All his friends stockpile him with the best Cubans. Only the feds prosecute for trading with the enemy. Not Battaglia. He just lets the evidence go up in smoke."

"You think she was killed here?" I asked.

"Nah. She's a dump job."

"No signs of any struggle, but then that's pretty tough to do when you're bound," Mike said, agreeing with Hal. "Maybe still alive when he brought her up and left her to die. That's why there's blood."

I looked through what was left of the window. The river was dark, a slight chop from the current kicking up an occasional whitecap. A few small boats criss-crossed the harbor, illuminating narrow lines over the water with their headlights.

"Not a trace of her clothing anywhere?" I asked.

"Zip. Looks like we're dealing with a pro, Coop. Felony frequent flier miles. C'mon, I'll put you in a cab. You've got court in the morning."

I said good night to Hal and his crew and went downstairs, careful to avoid the powder on the banister where crime scene cops had dusted for prints.

As we emerged from the mouth of the archway, under the faded print of the sign that said battery maritime building, one of the crime scene cops was waiting for Mike.

"There's something snagged in one of the long wooden splinters of the pilings, Detective. Take a look. I've photographed it there, so let me know if you want me to fish it out."

I followed Mike to the north side of the old structure. He leaned over the wire fencing and his hair gleamed as the officer held a flashlight above his head. I could see an object floating on the surface of the water, its many thick strands splayed like the tentacles of a sea creature.

"Bring it up, Jenks. You got something to hook it with?"

The eager kid ran to the department station wagon and brought out a long metal pole.  He disappeared inside the bay of the old terminal and reappeared on the far side of the fence. He walked along the edge of the building, carefully stepping down and out onto the planks between the tall pilings.

After several attempts to snag the mysterious object, Willy Jenks triumphantly lifted it out of the river, swung the pole over the fence, and dumped it at Mike's feet.

I kneeled beside him and tried to figure out what I was staring at.  Mike removed another rubber glove from his pants pocket and slipped it on before he began to separate the tangled strands.

With his index finger, Mike found what looked like a handle, pulling on it to stretch it out toward my foot.  Then he started to count the strips as he spread them apart on the ground.  "One, two, three…"

I could see that they, too, were made of leather, knotted like the piece the cops had found upstairs.  "What do you--?"

Mike held his finger to his lips to quiet me as he continued to count.  "Six, seven, eight."

The ninth length of rope was missing its knot.

"What is it?"

"Guess you never saw a cat-o’-nine-tails before."

Mike picked up the whip by it’s handle, shook off the water, then raised his arm and cracked it against the asphalt walk.  The sharp sound split the still night air like a gunshot.

"Bound. Tortured. Killed. It’s not a pretty way to die."


From the Hardcover edition.
Linda Fairstein

About Linda Fairstein

Linda Fairstein - Killer Heat

Photo © Peter Simon

Linda Fairstein, one of America's foremost legal experts on crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence, ran the Sex Crimes Unit of the District Attorney's Office in Manhattan for more than two decades.  Her first novel, Final Jeopardy, which introduced the character of Alexandra Cooper, was published in 1996 to critical and commercial acclaim.  Her nonfiction book, Sexual Violence, was a New York Times Notable Book in 1994.  She lives with her husband in New York and on Martha's Vineyard.
 www.lindafairstein.com
Praise

Praise

“Fairstein . . . makes the legal issues more exciting than any high-speed chase.” —The New York Times“One of the best crime fiction writers in America today. . . . Fairstein is fantastic!” —Nelson Demille“Alexandra Cooper, like her creator Linda Fairstein, is a force to contend with; smart, tough, and literate to boot!” —Sue Grafton“Fairstein. . . . tells it like it is. Every page . . . is brimming with the kind of you-are-there reality that can only come from someone who has been there, seen it, done it.” —Michael Connelly
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

“Fairstein . . . makes the legal issues more exciting than any high-speed chase.”
The New York Times

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are designed to stimulate your group's discussion of Linda Fairstein's legal thriller, Killer Heat.

About the Guide

As New York City swelters under the August sun, Assistant District Attorney Alex Cooper takes on her most riveting case to date in Killer Heat. While masterminding a courtroom victory for a rape victim who was denied justice decades earlier, Alex is called to the scene of a brutal murder. A young woman was severely beaten to death, her body disposed of in an abandoned building. The heat is on when a similar murder victim is found soon after, but the connections between the two women slip away from Alex, despite her hard-as-nails interrogation tactics. By the time a third woman is murdered, the tabloids are screeching about a serial killer, and Alex finds herself at the firing range, receiving weapons training from her NYPD buddy, Mike Chapman, as she follows the trail of a dangerous sexual predator—who has an obsession with women in uniform. A pulse-pounding ride from a bestselling novelist at the top of her game, Killer Heat is a sizzler.

About the Author

Linda Fairstein, one of America's foremost legal experts on crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence, ran the Sex Crimes Unit of the District Attorney's Office in Manhattan for more than two decades. Her first novel, Final Jeopardy, which introduced the character of Alexandra Cooper, was published in 1996 to critical and commercial acclaim. Her nonfiction book, Sexual Violence, was a New York Times Notable Book in 1994. She lives with her husband in New York and on Martha's Vineyard.

www.lindafairstein.com

Discussion Guides

1. What are Alex and Mike able to learn about the killer and the victim from the crime scene depicted in the opening chapter? How did your hunches and theories change as the evidence continued to build?

2. What did Kerry Hastings's experience reveal about the history of prosecuting rapists in America? What cultural shifts had to take place in order for changes to be enacted, such as the broad inclusion of women on juries and an abolishment of a statute of limitations for rape? What would it take to bring about change in countries where rape victims are now treated as criminals?

3. How did Alex's perception of Herb Ackerman change after he revealed his fetish? Which revelations about Amber were useful in finding her killer? What interrogation techniques does Alex rely on to ensure that witnesses are not only trustworthy but also trialworthy?

4. With or without DNA evidence, how would you have reacted to the behavior of the Latin Princes if you had been a juror during Floyd Warren's twenty-first-century trial?

5. Alex often has to confront rivalries between district attorneys and between law enforcement officials with varying jurisdictions. Do these rivalries spark healthy competition, or are they obstacles to justice?

6. In chapter twenty-three, Dickie Draper tries to profile the killer: “Eighteen to thirty-five, tops. Takes a lot of energy to do this. . . . Mostly a white boy's game. . . . And they're never Jewish.” How useful were his assumptions? What distinguishes effective and ineffective profiling?

7. How does it affect your reading to know that the author ran the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office for more than two decades? How does her experience shape the realism of her books?

8. What makes Luc the ideal match for Alex at this point in her life? How has her profession influenced her love life in previous novels?

9. What does Troy Rasheed's story indicate about the nature of evil? Was his mindset influenced more by his childhood or by his innate nature?

10. How did you react to Nelly Kallin's closing line in chapter thirty-seven: “It's not these bastards' gonads that drive them to assault their victims, Detective. It's their twisted heads”? Did Troy's history change your opinions about pharmaceutical “castration”? What is the best way to protect society from such criminals? Should Troy and Floyd be grouped in the same sexual-predator category?

11. Like Kiernan, did you believe that Jimmy Dylan was involved in the murders? How did your perception of the Dylan family shift throughout the novel? How much background screening should a bar be required to do before offering a job to a bouncer?

12. What kept Alex alive during her brutal confrontation with Troy, despite the booby traps he had set, as well as her severe claustrophobia? Could any sort of training or mental conditioning have kept Amber, Elise, Connie, and Pam from being captured by him? What do the victims' diverse backgrounds indicate about the combined randomness and precision in violent criminals?

13. What did you discover about Alex when she was receiving her weapons training? What does her trouble with guns indicate about the major differences between her and Mike? Do her affluent background and her love for ballet and Parisian sojourns make it easier or harder for her to connect with the gritty realities of their casework?

14. In what way does New York itself play a role in the plot of Killer Heat, with references to landmarks ranging from the legendary restaurant Lutèce to the sprawling historic buildings of Governors Island? What did you discover about the military history of New York State through Alex's dispatches to West Point and Governors Island?

15. What transformations have occurred in Alex since her debut in Final Jeopardy? How have her working relationships with Mike and Mercer been enhanced over the years?

Suggested Readings

Stephen L. Carter, The Emperor Of Ocean Park; Lee Child, Nothing To Lose; Janet Evanovich, Fearless Fourteen; Mark Gimenez, The Color Of Law; John Grisham, The Appeal; Michael Harvey, The Chicago Way; George Pelecanos, The Turnaround; Christopher Reich, Rules Of Deception; Lisa Unger, Beautiful Lies; Lee Vance, Restitution.

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