When Alexandra discovers that the freighter victim and the congressman's lover are connected in a way that simply can't be coincidence, it strikes her that these cases aren't as unrelated as they seem. She unearths a secret that will not only shatter the entire political landscape of New York, but expose Alexandra to the darkest, most dangerous, and most profoundly disturbing revelation of her career.
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About the Author
Linda Fairstein was chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney’s office in Manhattan for more than two decades and is America’s foremost legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence. Her Alexandra Cooper novels are international bestsellers and have been translated into more than a dozen languages. She lives with her husband in Manhattan and on Martha’s Vineyard.
Hometown:New York, New York and Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Date of Birth:May 5, 1947
Place of Birth:Mount Vernon, New York
Education:B.A., Vassar College, 1969; J.D., University of Virginia School of Law, 1972
Read an Excerpt
“How many bodies?”
“Six, Ms. Cooper. So far we got six dead. But there’s a mean rip and a swift current out there. Anybody’s guess what’s going to wash up by the end of the day.”
I was walking toward the ocean behind a cop sent to escort me from my car, following him on the path that had been formed in the dunes by the first responders who had tracked across it two hours earlier, at daybreak.
“One woman?” I asked.
“What?” The cop cupped his hand to his ear as he turned to look at me. The gust of wind that blew a clump of damp sand against the side of my face also carried off my words.
“The news is reporting that one of the victims is a young woman.”
“We got two now. Girls, really. Teenagers at best. Four men and two girls.”
I stopped at the crest of the dune and scanned the horizon. Dozens of police officers were scattered along a quarter mile of beach, their blue uniforms a deeper color than the rough Atlantic. Detectives in windbreakers and all-weather jackets looked slightly less
incongruous in this unlikely setting, some scouring the shoreline while others gathered around the survivors who had been brought to land.
“That’s it,” the cop said, pointing at the rusted freighter that was grounded on a sandbar about three hundred yards out to sea, listing to port, as police launches and Coast Guard boats darted around it. “Golden Voyage. That’s the name of the ship they sailed on.”
“Golden Voyage my ass,” Mike Chapman said, coming up beside me, adjusting his sunglasses as he spoke. “It must have been the crossing from hell. Happy New Year, Coop.”
“Same to you, Mike. Although this doesn’t get it off to a particularly pleasant start.”
“I got her from here, pal,” Mike said, dismissing the cop. “You warm enough?”
“I’m fine. Battaglia called me at home this morning,” I said, referring to my boss, the district attorney of New York County. “Did you just arrive?”
We were both dressed in jeans. I had a cashmere sweater under my ski jacket, with gloves and a scarf to protect myself against the brisk January day. Mike wore a white turtleneck beneath his trademark navy blazer. The winter cold never bothered him, any more than the sight of a corpse.
“Nope. Human trafficking—you don’t get worse scumbags than the guys who deal in flesh. All the squads got called in right away. Every borough,” he said. “I was doing a midnight so I shot out here from a crack den in Harlem. Just went back to the car now to get my shades. The glare on the water’s a killer.”
Mike was one of the best detectives in the city, assigned to Manhattan North Homicide, which handled every case from Fifty-ninth Street to the northern tip of the island. We’d been professional partners—and close friends—for more than a decade.
“Where do you want to start?” he asked me. People were swarming across the beach like armies of insects. “The tent over there to the left on that paved area—that’s the temporary morgue.
The group in the middle, we’ve got more than a hundred victims off the wreck so far, trying to get them in dry clothes. The commissioner is due in by chopper any minute now.”
“Who’s in charge?” I asked.
“Feebies, kid. The feds are running the operation. Your buddy from the task force, Donovan Baynes. His group is trying to set up a command center on the right. Hardest thing,” Mike said, starting down the slope, “is holding the press at bay. Roping them off on the street is easy, but keeping the helicopters and power boats away is more of a problem, now that news has spread. C’mon.”
“Take me to Baynes, okay?”
“Battaglia doesn’t let go, I’ll give him that. Rockaway Beach—the Irish Riviera—this is Queens, for Chrissake. That parking lot where the morgue is, it’s over the line in Nassau County. What makes him think he has jurisdiction here?” Mike’s loafers made a crunching sound as they pounded the sand while we toured the scene. His straight black hair, gleaming in the sunlight, was blowing wildly as he walked into the wind.
“Global and mobile. That’s how he likes to think of himself. He’s been DA for so long he doesn’t believe there’s anything that limits him,” I said. “That’s why he fought so hard to get me on the task force.”
Human trafficking, a modern-day form of slavery, wasn’t even on the books until federal laws addressing it were enacted in 2000. Before that, prosecutors had patched together local legislation to attempt to punish the handful of individuals who could be linked to efforts to transport victims across borders, coercing them to work at everything from agricultural labor to child prostitution.
“Good morning, Counselor,” a detective greeted me as we approached the group of men encircling Donovan Baynes. “Chapman, how many interpreters did you call for?”
“A boatload. Why? How many you got so far?”
“Two. Only two have showed up.”
“What language?” I asked, trying to process the sight of scores
of dazed victims who were wrapped in blankets, staring out at the shipwreck, undoubtedly looking for family members and friends.
“Ukrainian,” Mike said. “Why? You ever do a Ukrainian, kid? A little pillow talk and your Ukrainian could be almost as good as your French.”
I had just returned from Paris two days earlier—on Monday—where I spent the New Year holiday with my lover, Luc Rouget. The more about my personal life I kept from Mike, the more he needled me. “No surprise. Since the Soviet collapse, Ukraine leads Eastern Europe in the number of trafficking victims.”
“What do you want me to do about it, Chapman?” the detective asked. “We got to move these guys off the beach before they freeze their balls off. Sorry, ma’am.”
“Nobody’s gonna freeze today. It’s almost fifty degrees,” Mike said, not breaking his stride. “Send some cars over to Little Odessa. Go to a few coffee shops and grab anybody who’s sitting still.”
“Brighton Beach. Right next door, in Brooklyn. You’re like Coop—you need a road map to the Outer Boroughs.”
Brighton had been built as a local beach resort in the 1860s, named for the English coastal town in a contest held by its developers. In the 1970s, it was nicknamed Little Odessa because of the large concentration of immigrants from that Black Sea city, once one of the great ports of Imperial Russia.
Donovan Baynes waved as he saw us approaching. I’d known the forty-one-year-old since his days as a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He was surrounded by four men, three of them agents I recognized from our task force meetings. “Hurry up, Alex. Glad you’re here. I think you know everybody.”
I shook hands and introduced myself to the unfamiliar man. He appeared to be in his early fifties, barefoot and dressed in a wetsuit that was sculpted to his well-muscled body. “Hi, I’m Alexandra Cooper. Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.”
“Stu Carella. Used to be homicide, NYPD. Guess you don’t remember me, but we met at a few crime scenes when I was still on the job. The dancer at the Met, the broad who was kidnapped at Fort Tilden,” he said, then nodded at Mike. “I see she’s still stalking you, Chapman.”
“My order of protection expired, Stu. I asked the judge to keep her three hundred feet away and to tell her to stop stealing my underwear, but she’s out of control again. Be careful, man, Coop’s a sucker for guys in tights.”
“Let me bring you up to speed, Alex,” Baynes said, ignoring Mike’s chatter as he put his arm around my shoulder. He’d been around the two of us enough to know this was standard operating procedure for Mike. Behind us were the high-rise buildings of the Rockaways—mostly nursing homes at this end—and the smaller residences that bordered the beach. “About five of the vics have been debriefed. The ship left Sevastopol more than a month ago, with close to three hundred people on board, mainly men, but at least thirty women and children.”
I looked out at the decrepit cargo ship, amazed that it had made it here from Europe.
“Smugglers find the villagers living the most desperate lives, promise them jobs and a better life in America. Take every nickel they’ve managed to save, claiming to use it to feed them on the trip. Bribe officials. You know all that. They trucked these folks from small towns all over their country and loaded them into sweltering holds on board the ship, then began dodging immigration police throughout the Mediterranean.”
“They got all this way only to run aground here and die within sight of land,” I said. The stories I’d heard from trafficking victims were heartbreaking, but at least those who were rescued by law enforcement agencies often had a second chance.
“It wasn’t an accident,” Baynes continued, turning to his deputy. “The leader of the operation in New York—well, what do you call a snakehead in Ukrainian?”
“A friggin’ snakehead, Donny,” Mike said. “You brainiacs got to go to law school to figure that out? It’s the same in any language.”
Ages ago, the Chinese perfected the ugly practice of smuggling human beings, called snakes, for slave labor. Ringleaders of the inhumane syndicates had long been known as snakeheads.
“The boss of the operation is somewhere in this city. When the captain got close to shore just after midnight, he radioed his contact, who was supposed to send a small fleet of speedboats out to pick up the passengers,” Baynes went on. “Two, three hours went by and no sign of escorts. Apparently, the anxiety level of the immigrants who’d been pigeonholed for weeks went over the top. The first handful of men had been brought up on deck to be unloaded, and one of them got frantic when he saw a vessel with government markings coming toward them.”
“Coast Guard?” I asked.
“We haven’t gotten that far, Alex. No agency we know of has claimed yet that they tried to intercept the ship.”
Mike picked up the story. “That first group just went berserk and staged a mutiny, according to two of the guys who made it ashore. They locked the captain in his cabin with a few of the other managers. Some of the men were in such despair about being caught by immigration that they started jumping overboard to swim in.”
“That water must be frigid,” I said.
“Frigid? Don’t go showing off your area of expertise, Coop. That’s why we hauled Stu out of retirement.”
“Like I was just telling Donovan,” Carella said, “I’m in the Polar Bear Club here at Coney Island. We swim every Sunday, all winter long. Just had our big New Year’s party five days ago. Not so bad for the Atlantic. Forty-three degrees. Some hypothermia, maybe. Everybody will be watching out for that today. Cold water doesn’t have to be fatal, Alex.”
“But at least six people have died.”
Carella shook his head. “Probably drowned.”
“Drowned? The ship is so close to shore. The water isn’t even that deep.”
“Panic kills, Coop. Everybody who works on water knows that.”
“Can you believe it? Not all the peasants in Europe grew up with a pool in the backyard like you did, princess.”
Shouts went up from the crowd of victims and several of them broke through a line of cops, running almost thirty yards eastward to the water’s edge. Stu Carella dashed after the frantic young men and passed beyond them as he dove into the surf, where something that looked like a large rag doll was lifted again and flopped around by a tall wave that kept licking at the sand. He and three cops in scuba gear grabbed and carried another body onto the beach. One of the men immediately crouched in an effort to resuscitate the limp corpse.
I started after them and Donovan Baynes pulled me back. “Let it be, Alex. They know what they’re doing.”
“How many do you think jumped ship?” I wanted to make myself useful, but all the specialized squads of the NYPD were well-trained for this kind of disaster.
“It’s impossible to get an accurate count at this point. One fellow they’ve talked to explained that when the mutineers began to struggle with the captain, he tried to steer the damn thing away from shore, back out into the open sea. Making that turn, he ran the ship aground on a shallow sandbar. Some of the victims figured they were so close to the beach they could reach land—even several who didn’t know how to swim. Maybe twenty jumped. Maybe forty. Nobody seems to know yet.”
“The men you’ve talked to, do they know where they thought they were going?” I asked.
“Nobody told them the truth, Alex. It’s the usual scam,” Donovan said. “You’ve been there—people who don’t see a future for themselves and want to believe in a dream, but wake up in the middle of a nightmare. Countrymen were supposed to meet them right here in Queens and bring them into their homes until they’re placed in jobs—mostly agricultural ones—in farms upstate and in the Midwest. Those would be the men, the lucky ones.”
“The young women would become your territory,” Mike said.
I had seen this time after time in my role as chief sex crimes prosecutor in the DA’s office—girls abducted from their homes in Thailand or Montenegro, running away from abusive parents and desolate lives in Sri Lanka or Serbia, smuggled across borders in car trunks or leaky boats, often following their brothers or schoolmates, hoping that hard work and physical labor would eventually gain them the freedom of a new life in the States.
But the girls rarely made it to farmlands and fields. The sex trade had become a huge transnational industry, as lucrative as it could be deadly. The teenagers on the Golden Voyage were doubtless bound for basements and brothels, to be broken in by their owners for the months and years of prostitution that awaited them in the promised land.
“Is there any way to identify these victims?” I asked.
“No better than usual. Each one is supposed to have a piece of paper with his or her family name and town of origin in their pockets when they ship out,” Baynes said. “Most of them tossed or swallowed the paper as the police launches arrived. The brother of one of the dead girls is among the few who are talking. He dove in and she tried to follow.”
A lanky man sat at the corner of the tented morgue, with a gray blanket covering his head and upper body. I couldn’t tell whether he was shaking from the cold or because he was crying so hard.
Stu Carella was making his way back to us, refusing the offer of an NYPD sweatshirt that one of the cops thrust at him.
“Another kid gone,” Carella said, throwing a tuft of algae at the ground in disgust. “Probably drowned in three feet of water, unable to handle the pull of the rip.”
“From his hand?” Mike knelt down and picked up the slimy green vegetation with the tip of his pen.
Mike whistled and the closest cops looked up. He signaled one, who jogged to us. “Carry this over to the medical examiner. Goes with that latest body.”
The fact that the victim had been clutching algae, and I’d bet a handful of sand, as he was dragged across the ocean floor meant that he had been alive when he went into the water. Drowning, I had learned over the years, was a diagnosis of exclusion. A complete autopsy would be necessary for each of the Golden Voyagers who had washed up on the windy beach, despite how obvious the circumstances appeared to be to us.
“What do you plan to do, Donny?” I asked. “I mean, with the survivors.”
There was no good answer to this question. It was commonplace for these individuals whose lives at home were already overcome with despair to risk everything for this run to freedom, only to find themselves handcuffed in the backseat of a patrol car to begin the next leg of their ugly journey. A few might eventually be granted political asylum, some would be deported, but the majority would wind up in immigrant detention centers somewhere in the heartland of America.
Baynes stammered as he surveyed the bleak scene stretched out across the waterfront.
“I—I haven’t had an operation of this size since I—uh—since I was appointed to the task force. Frankly, I don’t know what becomes of these poor souls.”
The noise overhead was a police helicopter, probably carrying Commissioner Keith Scully, whom Donovan, Mike, and I all knew well.
“Not jail,” I said. “We can’t let them rot in jail while we sort it out.”
“Scully’s too smart for that,” Mike said.
“You’ll have to start working with the women right away, Alex,” Baynes said. “We’ll have them checked out medically and then each one needs to be interviewed. You’ve got backup?”
“The senior people in the bureau will be on it with me.” I had a great team of lawyers assigned to my unit by Battaglia, experienced in the courtroom and compassionate in their interactions with traumatized victims.
I could hear wailing now, a cacophony of voices that seemed like it could carry for miles. Cops were trying to move a small cluster of bedraggled survivors toward the dunes, to the vans waiting in the street that would shuttle them to whatever police facility Scully designated. The men were refusing to separate from their comrades despite prodding—all still focused on the others being ferried ashore, all still searching the waves for signs of missing friends.
“C’mon, Coop. You’ll rerun this movie in your brain all day and all night,” Mike said, taking my arm to turn me away from the sight. “You got what Battaglia sent you for. Donovan’s not doing anything on this case without your input.”
My feet were firmly planted in the sand. “I want to talk to Scully, Mike. Let go.”
“Scully’s running late.”
My head whipped around as I recognized the voice of Mercer Wallace. I squinted in the sunlight and shaded my eyes with my hand to look up at him. His six-foot-six frame towered over my shivering five-foot-ten-inch body.
“Good to have you here, buddy,” Baynes said, shaking his hand. “We’ve got a monster of a problem on our hands.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is one of the best in this series. Very complex and wonderful twists and turns. I'm in love with these characters.
HELL GATE begins with a shipwreck loaded with human cargo. One of the dead has a connection with a local politician (his lover has the same tattoo). Are they truly related or is it a coincidence? Alex Cooper an ADA and two NYPD detectives try to connect the dots. I have just started reading this series, but I must say that Linda Fairstein does a great job with her research and descriptive narratives of New York City architecture and history. I found this as interesting as the story itself. The camaraderie between Alex and Mike (one the detectives) is enjoyable, especially when they are always betting one another on the answers to Final Jeopardy. Although, this story wasn't as thrilling as some of the previous ones, it was still a good read.
Linda Fairstein shines again in her latest installment of the life and times of Alex Cooper. Those of us who know Alex from her previous adventures will be ecstatic for this one. Ms. Fairstein gives us a mystery/thriller that could be taken off the front page of any newspaper or the headlines of any TV news magazine. Alex finds herself knee deep in victims trying to be illegally smuggled into the US and criminals who always appear to be one step ahead of her. But in addition, there's an underlying crime where young girls while looking for a better life find themselves at the mercy of human traffickers. Linda once again brings us her expertise and knowledge as she takes her readers on a journey of legalese and cop speak, a journey down the darkest alleys of human suffering. Her dialogue while eloquent can also take on a gritty edge as she takes her readers on that journey. Her starring characters of Alex, Mike and Mercer still wow us and while familiar, still surprise us as we get more in depth looks into their lives with each new adventure. Be prepared to be furious, to be saddened, and sickened by this intensely riveting novel. It will be a wild ride for the senses and emotions. It will appeal to all Alex Cooper fans as well as hard core mystery lovers.
The 12th in the Alexandra Cooper series tells the tale of the shipwreck filled with a human cargo from the Ukraine. The secondary story is of political corruption in the Mayor's office related to the trusts of the historical buildings such as the Hamilton Grange and Gracie Mansion in New York City. How the two stories intertwine and lead to a surprising conclusion, just shows the continued talent of Ms. Fairstein.The characters continue to be like old friends that the reader wants to invite home and help with their personal problems. Seeing the personal side of this terrific trio (Alexandra, Mike, and Mercer) only intensifies the horror of those unfortunate creatures caught in the web of the Sex trafficking trade. This was not the best of the series but was definitely worth the time to read. The history lessons, related to the Historical buildings in this case, are always well researched and detailed.
Linda Fairstein is firmly on my list of must read authors. She has a fantastic series featuring Alex Cooper of the New York P.D. Sex Crimes Unit and two homicide detectives - Mike and Mercer. Hell Gate is the 12th book in the series.Alex, Mike and Mercer are called out to a shipwreck. Not usually their type of case - until the cargo is discovered to be human. Among the dead is a woman with connections to a prominent politician. The deeper the three dig, the more the past collides with the present. Human trafficking happened in New York City hundreds of years ago - but it looks like it's still happening.....The plotting is believable, combining political intrigue with crimes ripped from today's headlines. What I always find fascinating in Fairstein's novels is the level of historical detail used. New York City is always the background, but I would wager that even native New Yorkers would not be aware of the history behind many of the settings.The camaraderie of 'Coop', Mike and Mercer is a major part of the success of this series. The banter between Alex and Mike is a source of amusement and the attraction between the two grows stronger with every book. (Linda - you're making me crazy - will they or won't they?!) Mercer provides the calm voice of reason.Fairstein knows what she writes. She herself was chief of the sex crimes unit in Manhattan for over 25 years and is a noted expert on sexual assault and domestic violence. Her novels have the unmistakable ring of truth and authenticity to them.Hell Gate is a fantastic read on it's own - but I'm sure you'll be hunting down the rest of the series!
Another great NYC mystery by Fairstein. This one features the classic old mansions of the city, including Gracie Mansion.
Not the best effort by Ms. Fairstein, although I do enjoy the way she tries to weave a bit of New York history into all of her books. This one really misses the mark. It feels rushed, the plotting is poor, much of the action is too contemporaneous with names that are current now, but won't be in a year or so. The starting premise is good, but quickly gets bogged down in cutesy banter between Alex and Mike and all the aforementioned names.I like these books, but I hope the next one is better. I will admit, however, that I'm truly bored with the relationship between Alex and Mike. Neither one of them is very appealing in this book and that needs to change to keep Ms. Fairstein's readers coming back for more.
Really liked this latest book by Linda Fairstein. Set in New York City, the plot revolves around human trafficking with tentacles that touch some influential players in the city.Loved the history of NY interwoven throughout the story and enjoyed the interplay between the characters.Good book.
Another excellent story from Fairstein - I love the details, love the characters - I just wish Alex and Mike would get their act together!
Ms Cooper is drawn into a boat of illegals that has run aground. Bodies was up with strange tattoos that she recognizes as marking from prostitution rings. These women are from Russia. At the same time a political big wig is arrested for DUI and 911 calls from his mistress. Great insight into mansions in the New York area and history behind them. Jumel House, Gracie Mansion and Hamilton Grange.
Linda Fairstein's twelfth novel featuring ADA Alexandra Cooper, is another ode to the history and architecture of New York City and a fascinating mystery. Fairstein has a knack for weaving multiple storylines and cases without muddling the narrative. As we all know, only ADAs on television have the luxury of having one case at a time.If you're a fan of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, you should really read Linda Fairstein. She ran the SVU at the Manhattan District Attorney's office for decades, and now she writes wonderful novels. Thankfully, she manages to write one each year, but I find I even enjoy rereading them, which is rare for mystery novels. She is one of my favorite authors.The usual cast of characters is back in Hell Gate. The novel opens with the wreck of a human cargo ship and a promising New York politician crashing his car after fighting with his mistress. Sex scandals abound, yet Fairstein keeps the story from becoming salacious. As always, New York City itself is a character in the story, and the reader learns so much about the city's rich history. Some of it's tied to crimes, but much of it is there because it's fascinating. Hell Gate borrows a few characters from the headlines. Bloomberg isn't mayor here, but he was. Paterson is the governor of New York, and Spitzer did fall from grace. There's a currency to this book that I really enjoyed. If you follow New York City and state politics, you'll enjoy quite a few snarky jabs at familiar faces, names and characters. Normally, I recommend starting with Fairstein's first novel (Final Jeopardy), but I think the political storylines in this novel might entice fans of political thrillers, and these storylines have some amount of currency to them. Yes, some of the characters may be unfamiliar to new readers, but the focus is really on the mystery and politics in this novel; there are mentions to the social lives of our favorite detectives, but even new readers will be able to follow the story. The novel does begin with a lot of characters. I've read all of Fairstein's novels, and there were a few faces popping up I could not remember. I wasn't sure if they were knew to this book or not, but Fairstein provides enough background that it doesn't really matter if you remember the characters or not. Either way, it worked for me.
Another good entry in Fairstein's Alex Cooper series. Alex is an assistant DA in charge of the sex crimes unit, the job author Fairstein used to have in real life. In this book, a boat bringing in illegals from Eastern Europe almost intercepted and in their panic a number of the illegals jumped ship and drowned. One of the female corpses, however, was stabbed to death. Another body is found in a well on the property of Gracie Mansion, the mayor's residence. Gracie is one of three Federal style mansions left in the city, and the plot involves all three them at some point. Is someone in the mayor's administration involved n the murder of the woman in the well? Are the two cases tied together?Recommended reading.
Alex Cooper finds her attention torn between investigating a shipwreck and the political sex scandal of a New York congressman now fallen from grace. When Alex discovers that a woman from the wreck and the congressman's lover have the same rose tattoo (the brand of a 'snakehead', a master of a human trafficking operation), it dawns on her that these cases aren't as unrelated as they seem and that the entire political landscape of New York City could hang in the balance of her investigation.
I have been a Fairstein fan for many years and follow Alexandra Cooper and her capers as well as her relationships. Just a good story.
One of my recent favorites of Fairstein's books. She balanced the case with the (never-ending) tension between Alex and Mike. Nice to see a taste of Mercer's personal side without Alex's love life interfering until the end. While she and her boys always end up in some life threatening scenario I had the benefit of knowing there was another book out and she'd therefore live. Nice to see more of the city characters besides she, Mercer, Mike, Loo and Battaglia. The Rowdy twist was an interesting one - and it was nice to see where her city hall fall took the story. A little creepy with so much of it set within spitting distance of where I was reading. A great read.
excellent book! great read anytime!!!
I've read every one of her books and have never been disappointed. Love the characters and how they care about each other. Can't wait to read her next book.