When the name Linda Fairstein is mentioned, what things come to mind? For some, she was the renowned prosecutor and head of the Manhattan Sex Crimes Unit who is “credited with helping shift the conversation around sexual violence in the United States” as well as a best-selling author (https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2019/6/27/18715785/linda-fairstein-central-park-five-when-they-see-us-netflix). To others however, she is a villain, who oversaw the prosecution of Raymond Santana, Kevin Richardson, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, and Korey Wise in the Central Park Jogger case. Ever since the series When They See Us aired, people “cancelled” Linda Fairstein due to her involvement in the case and how she was portrayed in the show. In fact, her publishing company even dropped her soon after the series came on. From what I have read about Fairstein from various accounts, it seems like she was devoted to catching assaulters, but the main goal for her was to achieve fame as opposed to giving justice to the victims. This is my two cents. I am here to review books, and it just so happened that I recently read the first book in Fairstein’s Alexandra Cooper series called Final Jeopardy without knowing anything about the author prior. Is it possible to separate the art from the artist? Let’s find out.
In Final Jeopardy, Alexandra Cooper – Manhattan’s top sex-crimes prosecutor – wakes up one morning to discover a headline annoucing her own murder. However, the real victim was actress Isabella Lascar, who sought refuge at Alex’s haven in Martha’s Vineyard. She has to find out if Isabella was being stalked, or if she was mistaken for her. She is in danger, and she has to get to the killer before they get to her.
There were some aspects that I liked about the novel. First, I liked how balanced Alexandra Cooper is. She can be tough, but she expresses empathy towards various victims and a willingness to put the perpetrator behind bars. Also, she loves ballet and shopping. This proves that a woman does not have to be an ice queen in order to be a prosecutor. Second, her friendship with fellow colleague Mike Chapman was fun to read, especially how both troll each other and race to answer the Final Jeopardy question (yes, this is what the title is partially referring to). Third, I enjoyed reading how Alex handled the cases, especially the trial, in which the judge blames a mentally handicapped woman for being sexually assaulted because she had been before. It added a lot of realism to the profession.
Meanwhile, the plot seemed promising when Alex read the headline announcing her own death, but my attention waned once she found out who was actually killed. It did not help that the book dragged on because of how dry it was. In fact, even though I praised the sections, in which Alex handles other cases, those were simply filler. Ironically, I enjoyed that filler more than the main plot itself. There were parts that were somewhat interesting like finding out who Isabella’s main companion was and the climax, but it took a long time to get to those. I am surprised that I was able to get through the entire book.
Now, I would like to address whether or not the book actually exhibits racist aspects and to what extent as some people have pointed out. I had to raise an eyebrow during the part, in which one victim – a black girl named Shaniqua Simmons refuses to press charges against her boyfriend Nelson since she was the only victim of color and the only one to not to do so. Also, her voicemail plays “Sexual Healing” by Marvin Gaye. However, that was a relatively minor scene. Meanwhile, a reporter named Ellen Goldman interviews Alex earlier on in the novel, and then, she maintains a constant presence in the latter’s life. Initially, Ellen reveals that she is a sabra (a Jewish person born in Israel) with an Israeli mother and an American father. It is later revealed that Ellen used to fight for the Israeli Army. SPOILERS: she was the one who killed Isabella. However, when Alex learns about erotomania, she quickly identifies it with Ellen, whom she notes that other than that condition, Ellen is otherwise a normal functioning person.
All in all, Final Jeopardy by Linda Fairstein was pretty boring and dry. Yes, it contained realistic characters and situations, yet it was so drawn out that I wonder why I didn’t stop reading it right then and there. If readers like legal thrillers and are willing to look past the controversy surrounding the author, go ahead and read it. Outside of those aspects, I am not sure if I would recommend it to anybody else or read any more in the series not because of the cancel culture surrounding Fairstein, but because the novel was so tedious that I am afraid that other books will be just like it.
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