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Killer Instincts

Linda Fairstein looks inside the criminal mind.

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Linda Fairstein looks inside the criminal mind.


In real life, there are so many fewer serial killers involved in crimes than there are in crime novels,” says murder mystery writer Linda Fairstein.

Which is why, until now, Fairstein has eschewed that particular criminal phenomenon in her novels. But her next book, set for a January release, will involve a serial killer for the first time. Killer Heat, set in and around Manhattan, like all Fairstein’s books, takes place during an August heat wave, and a blackout caused by the failure of the power grid has a resulting impact on the forensics of the case.

“I often laughed at how much serial killing there is in fiction, but I decided I was ready to do one,” she says.

And she knows of what she speaks. Fairstein, 59, worked in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office from 1972 to 2002. She was chief of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit for 25 years and became one of the country’s foremost legal experts on crimes of violence against women and children. The original assistant district attorney on Law & Order: SVU, Alexandra Cabot, played by Stephanie March, is based on Fairstein.

But she doesn’t heed the “ripped from the headlines” mantra of Law & Order. “I don’t take real cases and turn them into fiction, but I do draw from motives and from real things that have happened.”

Killer Heat
will be Fairstein’s 10th crime thriller featuring Manhattan prosecutor Alexandra Cooper, and she is already plotting her 11th book. Being a novelist was a second career for Fairstein, but it was her first true love. She majored in English literature at Vassar College, from which she graduated in 1969. But she was drawn to public service and earned a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1972.

“I thought that I could practice law and eventually write, but I never imagined that the particular career in prosecution would become my direct route to writing,” she says. “As a trial lawyer, you were writing a novella, telling a story to convince the jury of your point of view.”

Fairstein’s life certainly has changed since she became an author.

“To work for myself for the first time after working for the government for 30 years was very liberating,” she says. “It gave me more time to make my own priorities—much more time with my husband, with my family.”

She would also like to write something akin to her first book, the nonfictional Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape (HarperCollins Publishers, 1993). “I’m bubbling with ideas,” she says.