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Island bookshelf: ‘Girls Like Us’

Cristina Alger has perfected the character of the smart, spunky heroine, which she showcased in “The Banker’s Wife,” last year’s successful novel. She’s followed up that tour de force with a crime novel this summer, “Girls Like Us,” which debuted at Number 13 on The New York Times bestseller list last month.

FBI agent Nell Flynn has been called back to the Hamptons for her father’s funeral when she is asked to consult on a series of murder cases. With the sudden death of her father, a homicide cop himself, she is forced to confront questions about his implication in crimes. Going back to the murder of her mother and continuing with the murders of two women around the Hamptons, Nell has to wrestle with the painful notion that he or one of his close colleagues on the force may be a killer. 

To complicate matters, Nell suspects that her father’s death in a motorcycle accident may have been deliberate. She herself is already recovering from an incident where she had to shoot a terrorist suspect and suffered injuries, both physical and emotional. She sustains further injuries by getting too close on the trail of one suspect after another, but eventually succeeds in finding the criminals.

Signing her new book recently at Finley’s Fiction in the Heights, Ms. Alger said she was fortunate that the husband of a friend, an East End bookseller, was a former Suffolk County detective. He spent considerable time with her, she said, helping her to master the conversational style, culture and tensions found among members of the force. The crimes depicted in the novel are based on real, unsolved cases. “I get fixated on cases,” she said. She practiced law before turning full-time to writing novels, and her training helps her turn mysterious crimes over in her mind to try to bring them to a resolution.

In “Girls Like Us,” she draws on the true crime stories of the “Gilgo Beach Murders,” where a series of young women’s corpses, wrapped in burlap, turned up in the oceanside dunes. The deaths of the young women, all sex workers, were never solved. Ms. Alger fictionalized the story and looked at it from the premise of a suspect within the police department. 

Moreover, one of the Hamptons mansions featured in the story belongs to a wealthy man who spends most of his time in Palm Beach. His neighbors notice that when he is around, there are lavish parties featuring very young, beautiful girls. The character is clearly based on Jeffrey Epstein, the financier accused of sexually exploiting young women, “and I was horrified at how much had been overlooked,” Ms. Alger said.

Her timing was perfect. “One night I couldn’t sleep,” she said, “and I checked my phone and there were like 150 emails.” 

Fearing that something was wrong, she quickly began to read them and learned that Jeffrey Epstein had been arrested on new charges. He now faces federal sex trafficking charges in New York, after serving a brief sentence in Florida and then carefully pursing an attempt to restore his image and place in society, according to a report in The New York Times.

(Editor’s note: Since this column was published, it was learned that Jeffrey Epstein had been found dead in his prison cell.)

Ms. Alger and her husband and children have a home in Quogue and enjoy visiting Shelter Island beaches with friends. She’s just finishing up her book tour and looking forward to spending time at home with a new baby. 

Readers like me, who couldn’t put down “Girls Like Us,” can enjoy her earlier books: “The Darlings,” “This Was Not the Plan,” and last year’s hit, “The Banker’s Wife,” which is currently being produced as a mini-series, to star actress Rosamund Pike.