Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Linda Fairstein at The Poisoned Pen!

It was a rare and special evening-- Denis was accompanying me to our favorite bookstore, The Poisoned Pen, to see author Linda Fairstein, creator of the Alex Cooper mystery series. "Coop" is the Assistant District Attorney in the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit of Manhattan, something that Fairstein is quite familiar with since she was chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney's office in Manhattan for more than twenty years. She is this country's foremost legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence. Fairstein is an author who has repeatedly popped up on my radar, yet I've not read a single one of her books. I had a feeling that was about to change.

Seats reserved, Denis comfy, and my purchase made, I sat down to read but didn't get far because the Arizona Women's Bar Association hosted a small party for the author before the event. When I wasn't blatantly eavesdropping on that, I was chatting with other people who'd come to the event for Linda's latest book, Killer Look.  Time passed swiftly, and before I knew it the event began.

L to R: Linda Fairstein, host Barbara Peters

The friendship between Fairstein and host Barbara Peters began in 1996 with the publication of the first Alex Cooper book Final Jeopardy. The first-time mystery writer was advised to try to appear at The Poisoned Pen to promote her book, although she was warned that it may not be easy to obtain an invitation for a first novel. She did get that invitation, and she's been back for every new novel since. "My book came out yesterday, and here I am at my first stop-- The Poisoned Pen!" Fairstein exclaimed. 

Linda Fairstein
Before talking about Killer Look, Peters had a confession to make: that she was not one of those people who can wear scarves. They slide off, the knots won't hold, they twist... something always goes wrong. On the other hand, Fairstein wears scarves with style (as you can see in the photos). Yes, there was a little scarf envy showing!

Linda then talked a bit about how things have changed. She started her practice in 1972. The District Attorney in New York did not allow women in the courtroom until 1974. The seven female attorneys were expected to stay in the law library. There was a severe dress code for women: no slacks, no bare legs, plain dark colors. Fairstein decided that she preferred the scarves and bright colors that became a sort of fashion signature for her.

Killer Look finds Alex Cooper in New York City's Garment District. 93% of the clothing manufactured in the United States in the early part of the last century was made there. Linda's editor advised her not to dive into the fashion part too heavily because he wanted to make sure her male readers would follow Coop to the area. Linda thought about it for a while and then decided to kill a man (much laughter in the audience)... and to focus more on the business side of fashion rather than the clothes. Fairstein has wanted to set a book in this area of Manhattan for a long time and decided that she'd better do it now. With all the outsourcing to places like China, the Garment District is shrinking rapidly and might not be there much longer.

Fashion Week shows are held all over New York City, which allowed Linda to focus on landmarks like the Metropolitan Museum of Art which has a fabulous Costume Institute and Linda's favorite place-- the Temple of Dendur, which is an Egyptian temple that was removed from an area being flooded by the Aswan Dam. She went on to tell us that New York's Garment District came into being during the mid-nineteenth century due to all the cotton that was being grown in the South. Once Isaac Singer's sewing machine hit the market, business in the Garment District really took off.

Linda listening to a fan's question.
The New York Times was very important in Linda's research. For instance, one of her characters was in desperate need of a backstory-- which she found in a Times story about a hatmaker who catered to Hasidic Jews.

"The Garment District is surviving because it can provide all sorts of specialty items that can't be found anywhere else," Linda said. "Trims... notions... there are shops on little side streets that have been there forever. There's one store that only makes zippers. Another shop called Tender Buttons is floor-to-ceiling boxes of buttons!" (And it was once used as a clue in a book.) The more Fairstein talked about these shops, the more I wanted to hop a plane for New York City to explore them all. I don't think I was alone.

"Alex Cooper is not a Teflon character in this book. She has a real drinking problem," Barbara Peters commented, and Fairstein agreed.

"When I started writing, I was still practicing law. I knew I wanted to write from a first person point of view, and I wanted a mentally strong female character with an unusual job.

"In Killer Look it's three weeks after Coop gets out of the hospital from what happened to her in the last book [Devil's Bridge]. I wanted to show a strong woman used to saving others who's now a victim. She's out of control and clingy. All this makes us look at her from a completely different perspective," Linda said.

Available Now!
"You do a great job of pointing out different New York City area landmarks," Barbara told Linda. This reminded Linda of something that made her smile.

"I was at an event at a Barnes and Noble when a young Irish woman came up and said, 'The reason why I'm in New York City is to visit all the places you mention in your books. My favorite is The Cloisters, and I haven't found it mentioned in any of the guide books.' That really made me feel good," Linda told us.

"Are you ever going to run out of places?" Peters asked.

"I don't think so," Linda laughed. "At the end of an event not too long ago a fan gave me the name of a place in Staten Island that I'd never heard of!"

A fan asked Linda if she'd ever used an actual case in any of her books. "I'm eighteen books in now, and I still haven't used an actual case and fictionalized it," Fairstein replied.

"One of the things I like about Linda's books is that she doesn't exploit her background in sex crimes," Barbara said.

One of the trivial little things that one always learns at an event like this made me smile. Linda buys her books from The Poisoned Pen and has them shipped to her. When Barbara told her that Lisa Scottoline had just called and ordered six copies of Linda's book, Linda shook her head and said, "I have to order seven of hers now!" I always enjoy learning about the friendships amongst authors.

Remember Barbara's scarf envy at the beginning of the program? Well... at the end, Linda's scarf slid off her shoulder. It was funny to see Barbara's fist pump and hear a little crow of delight. If you'd like to see it for yourself-- as well as everything that occurred, I encourage you to watch the event on The Poisoned Pen's Livestream channel.

Would it surprise you to hear that I now have a copy of a Linda Fairstein book to read? 

I didn't think so!

Linda Fairstein and Barbara Peters


  1. As always, Cathy, it sounds as though it was a great evening at the PP. I always like the variety of authors they host.

    1. From early on in The Poisoned Pen's existence, Peters wanted to be able to host both the bestselling authors AND the promising first-timers. I love the mix.

  2. Sounds very entertaining. Does the book go much into the history of the garment industry? I have been in a store with only buttons and seen some other specialty shops.

    I think of the garment industry fondly as my Russian Jewish grandmother worked in shirtwaist factories in the early 1900s as did so many Russian and Italian immigrants.

    In fact, she worked at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory but fortunately did not go to work on March 25, 1911, the day of the horrific fire that killed 146 workers, mostly immigrant women and girls. She lost many friends.

    Also, she of strong backbone was the person young women went to with grievances about managers as no one intimidated her and there were not unions in the factories.

    1. Your grandmother sounds like a truly amazing woman, and I know you're proud of her.

      Not having read the book, I don't know how deeply it goes into the history of the Garment District.


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