UPPER EAST SIDE, NY- “I’m a paper hoarder so there’s stacks of paper, don’t kill yourself!" Linda Fairstein laughed. Clutter breeds creativity for international best-selling author Linda Fairstein. “That’s all the books in order," showed me on her bookshelf. She’s published a staggering 19 crime novels for adult and young readers. “So research and everything is [in] a notebook with every thought," she added.
While she spends her days brainstorming, researching and writing, her biggest source of inspiration comes from experience; her first chapter if you will. “I heard you had a bid of a moniker? Hell on Heels, did you own that?” I asked. “I owned it, I was ready for it" she said. Fresh out of law school in 1972, Fairstein joined the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, as one of only seven women. Four years later she helped launched the first sex crimes unit in the country.
“The laws in New York State were so bad that the word of an adult woman reporting the crime was considered incompetent without independent evidence," she explained. As head of the division she tried or oversaw about 100 prosecutions a year. Some, very high profile, like the preppy murder and central park jogger cases. “We made mistakes along the way but we created this just on our own to make things better for the women and children and occasionally men who were victims of this kind of violence," she said.
And with her help in part groundbreaking laws were implemented finally giving women the chance at a fair trial. Fairstein also pioneered the use of DNA in cases. "In 1986 the chief medical examiner said to me you know there’s this new scientific technique I really think you ought to know about it," she remembered. "It revolutionized the criminal justice system."
A victim’s advocate to the core, that inspired an elite squad, 'known at the Special Victims Unit.' “If you had told me a primetime tv show about this issue 19 years ago, could have made it, I would’ve bet every nickel against you," she Fairstein said. "Yet they helped people around the world understand these issues. The numbers speak for themselves. According to the Department of Justice Statistics, the rate of rape and sexual assault against women dropped by about 50 percent over the last 20 years. But even one is too many.
“Educating the public is a huge piece of it," she said. "I think the work still to be done is less in the law but in getting people to understand and speak out about the issues and ideally prevent the crime." One way she felt she could do that was by returning to her roots. "If you could find the old yearbooks, brown hair and all it would say 'ambition: to be a writer'.”
So in 1996, Fairstein published her first novel in a now-long running fiction series starring lawyer Alex Cooper. Each centers around crimes at New York landmarks. “So here is a park where I have not yet killed anybody," she laughed while we walked in Carl Schurz Park. In 2002, she retired from the District Attorney’s office after three decades. Today, she still consults and is preparing to release her latest book, Deadfall. But in true Fairstein fashion, she’s already preparing for the next one. "The secret location for [book] number 20 I’ve already picked, but I really don’t want to say where it is yet," she smiled. "So you really don’t run out of ideas."
Linda Fairstein will be starting her book tour next week, here is a list of the locations:
Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi