Linda Fairstein’s 15th Alex Cooper novel, “Death Angel,” features a naked woman found floating in the Central Park lake, a terrifying rapist and a little rich girl who disappeared from her palatial apartment.
Chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan D.A.’s office for more than two decades, Fairstein now writes procedurals that have been translated into a dozen languages and become international bestsellers.
We spoke at Bloomberg world headquarters in New York before she set off on a book tour.
Lundborg: Early on, Alex gets threatened in court by a rapist. Did that ever happen to you?
Fairstein: That kind of verbal threat was not uncommon. Robert Chambers came to court looking like an altar boy every day -- this guy who with his bare hands had strangled someone was always opening the door for me and if nobody was around under his breath he’d say something nasty.
One of his friends actually threatened to burn my home down in the country.
Lundborg: Your crazy rapist is out on a work-release program. Is that common?
Fairstein: This happens pretty much everywhere. You call and ask when the next parole hearing is for Joe Crazy, and you get “Oh, we forgot to notify you -- he was doing so well, he’s in a halfway house in Yonkers.”
Lundborg: Not always a good outcome, I expect?
Fairstein: One of the most famous serial killers in Manhattan was Charles Yukl, who raped and murdered women in the Village. He was sent away and became a model prisoner -- he was giving piano lessons to the warden’s kid.
He got out and killed again. I mean “Hello?”
Lundborg: Is it generally accepted that rape is not a crime of passion but of violence?
Fairstein: Most people now see it as a crime of violence, in which the weapon is not a baseball bat. It’s the most degrading, humiliating thing to do.
Lundborg: Everyone sees how degrading it’s intended to be, so much so that in other cultures they kill the woman for bringing dishonor to the family.
Fairstein: Correct. Here, the law says that the woman can say no when she’s naked and has her legs up in the air -- and it still means no.
Lundborg: What’s happening on campuses? According to researchers at Wayne State University, about 27 percent of college women are raped or suffer attempted rape.
Fairstein: Before the federal regulations, every college on the planet wanted to sweep these issues under the rug. The administration was saying, “He’s on the football team, and if you report this or go forward, you are ruining his career; he’s pre-med, you are ruining his future.”
The weight was always put on the girl student to make it go away, tamp it down. A big penalty was letting the guy take a leave for a semester and then come back.
Lundborg: As punishment, one guy had to write a book report.
Fairstein: Now there’s a Department of Education edict saying every college and university has to have rules and policies for dealing with complaints of sexual assault.
They have to be investigated on campus, there has to be a policy for whatever kind of hearing you are going to have. There have to be health services, physical and mental, for the complaining witness, and there has to be a way of enabling the victim if she wants to go to the police.
Lundborg: Why are colleges so backward?
Fairstein: My view is that college administrators are not equipped to deal with sex crimes -- these are tough cases for trained prosecutors. If you are raped, that’s one of the most serious felonies in the New York State Penal Law.
Lundborg: What do you make of the surreal political races in New York City, with Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner trying to make a comeback, saying they’re sorry.
Fairstein: I don’t know Weiner well, but I do know his wife very well -- she’s smart, beautiful, fun. I can’t even imagine why he did what he did. These people are just so full of themselves they cannot see.
Lundborg: And Spitzer?
Fairstein: I knew Spitzer well since he was in the DA’s office when I was there. I thought he would have a fall from grace owing to his arrogance -- but if you ever told me there was a sexual impropriety, he was just so rigid, it was the last thing I would have thought.
So narcissistic, arrogant, sociopathic.
To buy this book in North America, click here.
(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
Muse highlights include Ryan Sutton on dining and Kazakina on art.