Alexandra Cooper, the ADA who heads Manhattan’s Special Victims unit, tackles yet another series of crimes that have nothing to do with sex but a great deal to do with gender.
The first victim is left outside Harlem’s Mount Neboh Baptist Church. Even before her head is discovered outside the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, she’s identified as activist Naomi Gersh by her arrest record. Any hope that the obviously planned and ritualistic killing would be a one-off is dashed when Ursula Hewitt, who was excommunicated upon being ordained as a Roman Catholic priest, is found outside Old St. Patrick’s Church with her tongue cut out. There’s little to be learned from Naomi’s kid brother Daniel, who disappears soon after he’s questioned by Cooper and Det. Mike Chapman, and not much more from Faith Grant, an Episcopal priest at Union Theological Seminary with links to both victims. But there’s every indication that the murderer has already struck at least twice more, claiming as victims a female pastor in Kentucky and a gay Pentecostal minister in Georgia. All the while Cooper is struggling to figure out why someone wants to silence religious mavericks and pariahs, she has to deal with two other hot-button cases as well: a prep school student’s unsupported accusation that she was raped by another student, and a charge of clerical sex abuse that heats up even further when Cooper’s withering cross-examination of Bishop Edward Deegan, a character witness for the defense, is observed by a ponytailed wraith who just might be the killer. The obligatory Cook’s Tour of New York’s religious sites and their backgrounds recalls Margaret Truman at her most tiresomely didactic, and the set pieces, especially the climactic confrontation with the killer, are overextended and creaky. The detection, however, is first-rate, and many of the daggers Fairstein hurls at organized religion’s systematic disempowering of women find their mark.
Above average for this bestselling series, though not up to the mark of Hell Gate (2010).