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TERMINAL CITY by Linda Fairstein: Book Review

The young woman’s body was found in a suite at the Waldorf Astoria, the luxury Manhattan hotel that was home, over the years, to such celebrities as Marilyn Monroe and Cole Porter.  The suite was supposed to be unoccupied, but someone had entered with the victim, killed her, and left unseen. The New York City police are under a tight deadline to solve this crime–in less than a week, the president of the United States will be checking into the Waldorf while visiting the city to address the United Nations.

The corpse has no identification, and in addition to her slashed throat she has marks on her back and legs.  The marks look like “ladders” that were carved into her skin deliberately.  What could they mean?

Then a second body is found in an alley near the hotel.  This time the victim is a man, probably homeless, so initially there seems no connection to the first crime.  But a closer inspection shows that his body has the same “ladder” marks as the first one.  When the neighborhood patrolman sees the body, he immediately knows who it is.  The victim’s name is Carl, and he lived in the train tunnels under Grand Central Terminal. 

Grand Central was the brainchild of “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt.  First there was Grand Central Depot, then Grand Central Station, but they weren’t large enough for all the trains entering and leaving the city.  Vanderbilt recognized that to maintain the city’s superiority it needed to be a major railroad hub, so the immense terminal was built and completed in 1913.  Sparing no expense, it has floors of Tennessee marble, wall trim of Italian marble, and ceiling tiles in the Oyster Bar that were copied from those in the cathedral of St. John the Divine in uptown Manhattan.  Stone statues adorn the building’s fasçade.

Now assistant district attorney Alex Cooper and her team, including police detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace, are trying to find the connection between the first corpse and the second.  The people who live in the tunnels, like Carl, are called “moles.”  So Alex, Mike, and Mercer go underground in hopes of finding out something about Carl that will help them solve both murders.

Terminal City is a fascinating read because of its characters, its plot, and its sense of history.  Alex is a tough woman, a formidable prosecutor of sex crimes, but her history has made her vulnerable in her private life.  Her relationship with Mike Chapman is currently at its strongest point, or it was until Mike was out of touch for several weeks and then returned to the city without telling Alex.  Now she’s not sure where she stands with him, and he evades all her questions.

Linda Fairstein’s knowledge of New York City is encyclopedic, as she has proven in Terminal City and her other novels.  Here she takes the reader into every part of Grand Central, into places so removed from its elegant bar and historic Tiffany clock that it’s like traveling to another world.  Her characters are strong and believable, and the plot moves at a rapid pace.  And then, of course, there’s the delight in learning about the building itself, a National Historic Landmark since 1976.  No matter where you’re reading Terminal City, you’ll feel as if you’re in the Big Apple.

You can read more about Linda Fairstein at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.









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