Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Night Watch" by Linda Fairstein

Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper is on a romantic holiday in France with her restaurateur boyfriend Luc Rouget. The romance is cut short when the dead body of one of Luc's former employees is found in a fountain. A promotional matchbook for Luc's planned New York restaurant has been found on the body.

The holiday itself is cut short when Alex is called back to New York for a high-profile case in which hotel maid Blanca Robles has accused Mohammed Gil-Darsin of raping her in his room. Gil-Darsin is the head of the World Economic Bureau, so the case is attracting heavy publicity. Cooper must work with her nemesis Pat McKinney to get the full story out of the maid so that they can take it to the grand jury. However, the case is complicated by a civil suit that Blanca wants to bring, plus the fact that more and more inconsistencies keep popping up in her story.

Alex's personal and professional life gets thrown into further turmoil when a dead body is discovered in New York. This person also had a promotional matchbook on their body, just like the murder victim in France. It seems as if rivalry in the restaurant industry can be a deadly business. It also has Alex questioning her relationship with Luc.


The novel's blurb states that Alex fears the two cases are connected. I can tell you now that they're not. They barely intersect. The rape case subplot then gets wrapped up with no real resolution whatsoever. Gil-Darsin's wife shoots him dead on the steps of the courthouse. Do we learn if Robles was in fact telling the truth or lying through her teeth? No. Nothing. We spend all that time with a prominent subplot only for the author to decide it wasn't worth her time to give us a proper wrap-up. An accused person being shot down is a common plot ploy in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit". They've used it hundreds of times. But that is a television show that only takes up an hour of your time. I allocated what amounted to at least a full day on this drivel, so it's really not acceptable. It's a real pity, because the rape subplot - obviously based on Dominique Strauss-Kahn's real-life rape accusation - is highly engaging and interesting. Had the focus been on this plot, with a possible connection to the restaurant murders, "Night Watch" could have been a real winner. Ironically, "Law & Order: SVU" had its own episode based on Dominique Strauss-Kahn with many of the same plot twists. They told a much better story in 45 minutes than "Night Watch" manages in 400 pages.

The next element that sinks this novel is the restaurant rivalry. It's dull. The novel might as well have been called "Diet Watch" considering the amount of time we spend reading about what Alex, Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace eat. They flitter from one restaurant to another playing kissy-kissy with all the restaurant owners while nominally discussing the cut-throat world of owning restaurants. It gets unbelievably boring. I really couldn't have cared less. By the time the finale rolled around, I wasn't too sure why the killer wanted people dead. The plot is not developed enough or explored enough for there to be any tangible threat. All of a sudden the major players are at a wine estate and in dire danger. I flicked through the final chapters with no real sense of attachment to the proceedings, or interest in what might go down.

Next we have Luc Rouget. Despite being Alex's boyfriend, he's never had much presence in these novels. A phone call here or there, or maybe a quick visit. Here he takes centre stage. However, I've never had much reason to care about him or what happens to him. Fairstein herself has never given me a reason to. He was always very much a background character. Why am I supposed to care now? The suspense of the novel is supposed to derive from who is trying to frame him. Well, I barely even know who Luc Rouget is. I don't care who's trying to frame him. I was more interested in the rape case that Alexandra was handling. But that plot kept getting dropped so I could visit yet another restaurant with Alex and Luc. Or Alex and Mike. Or all of them together. Yawn.

After not mentioning it for a few novels, Fairstein brings up the fact there is chemistry between Alex and Mike, but it could never go anywhere because she'd have to give up her job. Is Fairstein planning to bring these characters together? She seriously needs to make some progress in this direction or drop the possibility altogether, as the series is reaching a numbing sense of equilibrium; no matter what happens to the characters, they're always back in the same headspace and situation by the end of the book.

From what I can gather, Linda Fairstein's husband Justin Feldman died during the writing of this book. Her love for him was always very clear in each of her novels (she had a character of the same name in the books, and often mentioned him in her acknowledgements), so I was very sorry to hear this. But in those circumstances, wouldn't it be okay to take a year off? I can hardly blame her if her attention wasn't fully on delivering an exciting, cohesive thriller. "Night Watch" delivers two undercooked plotlines that fail to satisfy.

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