Deep from the Archives
This is an author interview I wrote in 1997.
Final Jeopardy by Linda Fairstein
All good people, unit! Be glad that Linda Fairstein is on our side.
Fairstein has worked as a prosecutor in New York for over two decades, and she has been the chief of their sex crimes prosecution unit since 1976. She frequently speaks out against the cruelties of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and other types of violence against women, lecturing in the highest spots of the land. Those places include Harvard Law School, Kennedy School of Government, the Radcliffe College Alumna Association, Vassar College, and Cornell Medical School.
Fairstein was featured in “The Trial Lawyers: The Nation’s Top Ten Litigators Tell How They Win,” and she was also profiled on the television show, 20/20. Her legal work has been showcased in the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Ms., Cosmopolitan, Executive Female, Self, London’s Mail on Sunday, and Time.
Her list of awards is lengthy, including being chosen by the American Bar Association in 1991 as one of the outstanding 20 lawyers in the nation. She was selected as Woman of the Year by both Glamour and New Woman, and she was also the 1994 Boy Scouts of America Distinguished Woman of the Year. This is but a smattering of her amazing accomplishments.
Starting Out with Nonfiction
On top of all that, Linda Fairstein is also a mighty fine writer.
“Almost ten years ago,” she said, “I had offers from several publishers to write a nonfiction book about the work that has become my specialty, which is crimes of violence against women. Despite what most people think about lawyers and their ability to write, I had majored in English literature in college, won prizes for my writing, done an enormous amount of writing and lecturing — both as a trial lawyer and as a specialist in sex crimes — and I simply love to write.”
And, it shows.
While she admits to having missed several writing deadlines wit her nonfiction manuscript because of work responsibilities, Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape was published in 1993 by Morrow. Sexual Violence was also chosen as one of the 1994 New York Times notable books and, in 1995, Berkley published a paperback version of the book.
Love of Fiction Writing
“It was always my dream, though,” Fairstein said, “to write fiction. I love the crime novel and murder mystery genre, and have always read them voraciously. In addition, I have more than twenty years of first-line material from my own experiences, and a close professional relationship with the NYPD, the medical examiner, and all kinds of forensic experts.”
It was her success with completing the nonfiction book that gave her the confidence to finally begin her fiction manuscript. “I decided,” she said, “that it was time to indulge my fantasy.”
The result of Fairstein’s indulgence was Final Jeopardy, a chew the nails, keep the lights burning, check under the bed before climbing under the covers kind of book. The protagonist, of course, is a female prosecutor.
“I had the outline for Final Jeopardy in my head for months before I began to write,” she said. “The idea for the murder grew out of a true stalking situation. When the actress Greta Scacci was cast in Presumed Innocent as the murdered sex crimes prosecutor, she spent time shadowing me for the role. And, during those weeks, she was also being harassed by a male caller.”
Story Behind the Story
Fairstein offered Scacci a sanctuary in her country house. “Although she didn’t need to use it, I suddenly became frightened that its remote setting would pose a danger for her, instead of being a respite,” Fairstein said. “So, my fictional plot takes off from there, with a movie star being killed at the prosecutor’s retreat on Martha’s Vineyard — and the cops assuming that the prosecutor had been the intended victim.”
All of the anecdotes in the book, Fairstein added, are based on actual cases. “And, the reaction to the book,” she said, “has been stunning.”
Fairstein isn’t kidding. Final Jeopardy sold on the basis of only 93 pages — yep, only 93, in a bidding war among three houses. “Scribner’s bought the first two novels, hardback and paperback,” she said. “I’ve now sold books in 12 countries abroad. I did a ten-city tour in the United States, including lots of independents and mystery book stores, where the readers really come out, and it’s wonderful.”
What Susan Isaac Said
Here is what Susan Isaacs had to say about the book: “This is no I-guess-this-must-be-what-it’s-like fantasy of how the criminal justice system operates. Final Jeopardy is a smart and gutsy insider’s whodunit. But the novel has more than authenticity going for it. It’s got a terrific protagonist: Alexandra Cooper is a tough, dedicated assistant director attorney and a warm-hearted, funny, and insightful dame. Linda Fairstein has done of hell of a job!”
Final Jeopardy was a duel selection of the Literary Guild, paired with a John Grisham book, and it was the main selection of the Mystery Guild. “I was brought over to London and Dublin for their publication last July,” Fairstein said, “and then I went to Amsterdam for the Dutch publication in October. I also made the bestseller list in Australia, so this has certainly been beyond my wildest dreams.”
And, this finally-fulfilled dream started decades ago for Fairstein. “All throughout my student career, I devoted a lot of time and energy to writing, from my earliest childhood on,” she said. “My college years in the English department at Vassar were saturated with reading the classics — a great preparation for any kind of literary career — and with writing papers.”
Fairstein loves the written word so much that she prefers letter writing over telephone calling. “I love the creative process,” she said. “If people do not enjoy the actual process of writing, I can’t imagine that they truly want to be writers.”
She is working on the sequel to her novel right now, called Likely to Die. “The toughest part about writing, for me, has been finding time to do it in serious chunks, so I can keep the mood and the voice going,” she said. “It’s difficult, because my full-time prosecutorial job is so demanding. So, I want to encourage everyone who is trying to break through, along with those who are writing as a second career. Keep plugging away at it.”