Lee Child calls her "the queen of intelligent suspense." And we know Lee is always right.
Her newest thriller, DEATH ANGEL, is out July 30...hurray! And she graciously agreed to chat with us about it..and about all the fascinating behind the scenes stuff that went into it. And--yes indeed--Jungle Red is giving a copy of DEATH ANGEL to one lucky commenter!
DEATH ANGEL---starts in Central Park.
I’ve always been drawn to the Park, and especially to the more remote places like the Ramble and the Ravine, which many regulars have never explored. The island of Manhattan had sprawled in development from the tip of its southern shore to the mid-50’s before our city fathers gave serious thought to planning a great Greensward inspired by the magnificent European parks. Now, it’s hard for me to imagine this city without the glories of Central Park. It was only a matter of time before Alex, Mike, and Mercer had to dig deep into the Park and its fascinating history to solve a series of crimes.
HANK: So were you a Central Park buff before you wrote Death Angel?
LINDA FAIRSTEIN: I’m always attracted to stories that expose the rich history of New York City. Behind the elegant exteriors, there are usually some dark secrets, interesting tales – and occasionally, bodies. I’ve spent so much time in the Park, both personally and professionally, that I’ve had the opportunity to visit locations that many people just don’t find by themselves.
When it came time to do serious research, I had two impeccable sources. The first was the Central Park Conservancy, a superb organization which really made possible the restoration of the Park after the fiscal crisis of the 1970’s almost wrecked it. I’ve supported the Conservancy for years, and was fortunate enough to be introduced to Sara Cedar Miller, the Conservancy’s historian and photographer. I wore out several pairs of sneakers trying to keep up with Sara in Central Park. The second source was a great friend, Nan Rothschild, a distinguished urban anthropologist who is a professor at Columbia and Barnard. Nan led the dig in Central Park several years ago which uncovered Seneca Village. I had no idea the village ever existed, and when I find a fact like that, I know it will work its way into the story.
HANK: Speaking of Seneca Village--Why did you feel it was important to include in your narrative?
LINDA: Once I heard the story of Seneca Village, I couldn’t imagine writing about the Park without including this interesting piece – the houses, schools, churches, cemeteries; it was truly a village. And the people, I still wonder, where did they wind up? If something haunts me enough and works its way into my imagination, I often find that it will resonate with my readers, too.
As I have spoken to people about Death Angel, I have been surprised by how few New Yorkers are aware of the Seneca Village history, or of the fact that Central Park – but for the enormous glacial erratics – is entirely manmade, down to the trees planted in each area, by the design team of Olmsted and Law. Readers always write to me about their love of learning about the historical aspects of New York City in my series. People who live here now or who were raised here really enjoy learning more about places and institutions which seem so familiar to them, but have hidden stories and those readers elsewhere who have never been to New York tell me that this kind of historical detail is what brings the city alive to them. So of course I had to include it!
HANK: The Dakota! Such a icon..I’ll always think of Rosemary’s Baby, and of course John Lennon.
LINDA: Everybody I know is fascinated with the Dakota, the first “apartment” building in Manhattan designed to lure rich and prominent New Yorkers away from their Fifth Avenue mansions. It’s been used in fiction many times – the inspiration for the apartments in Rosemary’s Baby, the building in the wonderful Finney novel Time and Again, in thrillers by Harlan Coben and Lee Child. And sadly, in real life, it was the home of John Lennon, and its front gate was the scene of his murder.
I have a good number of friends who live in the Dakota and I love to visit them there. But until I wrote this book, I’d never stopped to study its history – which is fun – and which made me even more anxious to get an invitation to go back there and poke around.
HANK: Speaking of poking around... Death Angel involves a lot of internal conflict between the police force and a judge. Is this, um, just fiction?
LINDA: In each of my novels, I have drawn on some aspect of my professional experience – thirty years as a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office – to give some life to the stories. There are personal conflicts – from time to time – between and among many of the individuals in the different agencies that make up the criminal justice system. They are not always as extreme, nor as personal, as the relationship I create in this book, but they exist. Some have been more complicated than the one I wrote about here – which is completely fictional – but it is an area I wanted to explore to show how personal relationships can truly interfere with the work of the system.
HANK: You are so incredible with endings! Death Angel wraps up with a surprise that pulls from all the different storylines within the novel. So do you know exactly how you are going to end the novel? Or do you improvise as you go along?
LINDA: My usual process is to start with the world against which my story is going to be set – in this case, the rich background of Central Park. Then I decide on my victim – because we usually meet her or him early on – and figure the reason for which the murder would have occurred. And then, yes, I figure out the ending next, and I do it for a couple of reasons. Readers of crime novels tend to be very intelligent. They like the stories to be suspenseful, and most don’t mind trying to sort out the red herrings from the real suspects. But at the end, when the killer is revealed and the motive is explained, it has to make sense and come together for the smart readers. So if I know who the killer is at the outset, it allows me to try to leave clues along the way and build to a conclusion that holds together.
The second thing, for me, is that Alex Cooper doesn’t carry a gun. Although she has been in a couple of circumstances in which she can get her hands on one, she doesn’t like guns and isn’t comfortable with them. Other crime novel protagonists are. So I need to figure out where the story is going to end – and how – so I know that Alex can figure out some way to extricate herself from jeopardy, if that becomes necessary. Most of the plot highlights are known to me when I set out to tell the tale, but there are inevitable twists and turns that develop along the way, much to my delight and often to my surprise.
HANK: Is there a character you most enjoy writing? Why?
LINDA: Mike Chapman is my favorite character to write – hands down. When Mike’s in a scene or has a major segment of dialogue, I find myself smiling and channeling back to a bar stool in Forlini’s, listening to some of my smartest detectives telling stories at the end of a long working day. Mike is a composite of some of the best and brightest – and funniest – guys with whom I have handled such deadly serious cases. His character is loaded with some of my most wonderful memories of the prosecutorial work that I did for so long. In those many exhausting hours in front of a computer writing a book, Mike is the guy I most want to have hanging out with me, keeping me going – and maybe having a cocktail with me at the end of the day.
HANK: Okay, so dish. Mike Chapman and Alex Cooper. In Death Angel there’s even more teasing of the reader than usual…. Is this something we can expect more of in the future?
LINDA: There is no question that I get more mail and more comments at my appearances about Alex’s relationship with Mike than about any other thing. Coop has worried about what to do for quite a while now –it’s clear that Mike is her best friend and that she loves him dearly but she is also fearful that District Attorney Paul Battaglia would break up their professional partnership if they became entangled romantically. It just seemed to be the right time and place to test the waters.
HANK: Okay, I can’t resist. Is Alexandra Cooper based on you?
LINDA: It’s hard not to laugh as I try to answer this. Fifteen books ago, when I created Alex Cooper, I was still a prosecutor in charge of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office Sex Crimes Unit. I had written a non-fiction book about our work, but had always longed to write crime fiction. And in the 90’s, it was an exciting time in fiction for strong female protagonists in a non-traditional role. There was Coop! A bit too young to experience what I had in the 1970’s – when there were only 11 women in my law school class and seven on the staff of the DA’s office when I joined. The old adage “write what you know” seemed perfectly on point. Through Coop, I felt that I could show my passion for the job – especially since sex crimes and domestic violence, although age-old crimes, were getting first-time attention in the criminal justice system.
While Alexandra Cooper’s professional life is written with all of my experience and love for her work, I have taken great liberties with her personal characteristics. No, I didn’t have a trust fund – but I gave her one to allow her to have the Vineyard home, which provides such an escape from the pressures of her job. Lots of fictional changes on her personal side. She’s younger (much younger now than when I started to write her), thinner, and blonder – but she loves her work, just as I did. There’s a lot of me in Coop, but also a lot more that she knows which, in hindsight, I wish I had known at the time.
HANK: Grr. What a moment to run out of time!
Don't forget to comment to be entered for DEATH ANGEL...have you ever been to Central Park? Anything interesting happen?
Find Linda at: www.lindafairstein.com
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