The latest thriller from Linda Fairstein (Entombed, Final Jeopardy, The Bone Vault, Likely To Die) is a murder mystery focusing on the New York City theater district. Based on the real life murder of Metropolitan Opera violinist Helen Hagnes, Death Dance, the eighth installment of the Alex Cooper series, has Cooper reuniting with old colleagues, crime scene investigators Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace, to investigate the disappearance of dancer Natalya Galinova.
The book actually opens up with Cooper interviewing a date-rape victim named Jean. In this thread of subplot, Cooper learns about Jean and friend Kara’s night with a demented doctor who drugged and raped them. In an interesting little twist later on, this doctor’s video collection is found. But soon, Death Dance segues into the disappearance of Natalya Galinova. Her body is eventually found in an air conditioning shaft, and Cooper, Wallace and Chapman get to work.
As in all good mysteries, clues are found that lead to dead ends, creating suspense and thrills as you listen to the story unfold. In the mix of suspects is theater owner and producer Joe Berk, a really colorful, sharp character (about the only one I liked, despite him being the bad guy) with a quick mind and tongue in fending off Cooper’s claims that he is Natalya Galinova’s murderer. Other suspects like Lucy Devore (who meets her untimely demise via a fall from a red velvet swing) and a plethora of subplots and kernels of information fill out the book, but ultimately Death Dance is only an average entry in the Cooper series.
Overall, this is a solid offering from Fairstein, who gives great insight into the history of the theater world. That, plus a fairly fast-paced story, keeps everything moving along so that it does not ending up being one of those “throw the book against the wall” type stories. It is simply stuck in Okayville because the murder mystery feels secondary to the information about the theater scene. Blair Brown’s performance is solid, but too many characters make it hard to keep track of who is who sometimes. Longtime fans will rip through this and wait patiently for the next Alex Cooper novel.