(Alafair S. Burke)
PERSONAL: Born in Fort Lauderdale, FL; daughter of James Lee (a crime writer) and Pearl (an artist) Burke. Education: Reed College, B.A., 1991; Stanford Law School, J.D. (with distinction), 1994.
CAREER: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, law clerk to Judge Betty B. Fletcher, 1994–95; deputy district attorney, Portland, OR, 1995–99; Phillips, Lytle (law firm), Buffalo, NY, associate, 1999–2001; Hofstra University School of Law, Hempstead, NY, associate professor of criminal law, 2001–. Oregon Uniform Criminal Jury Instructions Committee, member, 1996–98, secretary, 1998–99; Northeast People of Color Conference planning committee, member, 2003–. Commentator on legal issues for radio and television programs, including Court TV.
AWARDS, HONORS: Stessin Prize for Outstanding Scholarship, Hofstra University, 2003, 2004.
"SAMANTHA KINCAID" MYSTERIES
Judgment Calls, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2003.
Missing Justice, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2004.
Close Case, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor of articles to legal reviews.
SIDELIGHTS: Alafair Burke is the author of a series of mystery novels centered on Samantha Kincaid, an assistant district attorney in Portland, Oregon. Burke knows whereof she writes; she spent five years at that very job in the late 1990s. However, despite Kincaid and Burke sharing a job and a law school, Burke claims that the character's personality is not based on herself. "She's much more brazen and confrontational than I am," Burke told Book Place online interviewer Lucy Watson. "She's also funnier, taller, thinner, and much more neurotic, and she could beat me in a race without breaking a sweat."
In the first "Samantha Kincaid" mystery, Judgment Calls, Kincaid is presented with a case that the police would like her to prosecute, but not with enough evidence to do so. The crime's victim is a thirteen-year-old, heroin-addicted prostitute who has been raped, seriously beaten, and left for dead, and Kincaid hopes to be able to dig up enough evidence to charge the perpetrators with attempted murder. However, as she investigates, she finds out that this assault is only a small part of a much larger web of crimes. Judgment Calls is "narrated in a crisp first person and injected with good-natured humor," commented a Publishers Weekly contributor, and is also "tightly plotted and detail laden." "Burke … writes with both a clarity and a self-assuredness that belies her first-novelist status," Craig Shufelt wrote in Library Journal, and Booklist reviewer Mary Frances Wilkens noted that she also "blends courtroom drama and criminal investigation with surprising aplomb."
In the next installment, Missing Justice, Kincaid investigates the murder of Clarissa Easterbrook, an administrative-law judge who generally oversaw routine civil cases. The evidence all seems to point to a disgruntled janitor whom Easterbrook had evicted, but Kincaid begins to worry that the man is being framed. The book reads like "a deftly extended episode of Law & Order," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic, while a Publishers Weekly contributor noted that Burke "does a good job of integrating the political and personal lives of her characters, with the detectives of the Major Crimes Unit being particularly well drawn."
Kincaid's personal life is a major part of the plot in Burke's third mystery, Close Case. Her investigation in this novel centers on the murder of Percy Crenshaw, a journalist. Kincaid's romantic relationship with a detective on the force has been progressing nicely, until his partner uses some questionable tactics when interrogating a suspect in Crenshaw's murder. Kincaid is stuck in the middle, forced to choose between doing her job ethically and trusting her boyfriend's and his partner's judgment in their interrogations. Close Case is a "superb legal thriller," Stacy Alesi concluded in Library Journal, "Burke hits her stride in this third outing," praised a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who also noted the "plausible moral dilemmas for Samantha … and surprises that are still popping up on the final pages."
Burke's father, James Lee Burke, also writes mysteries, although of a very different style than his daughter's. As the younger Burke often points out in interviews, she was the family's original mystery writer, borrowing her father's typewriter to compose mysteries such as "Murder at the Roller Disco" as a child, at a time when her father was still writing in other genres. "What I really think I inherited from my family more than any particular writing style … is a narrative tradition," Burke commented in an interview on her Home Page. "The Burkes are people who tell stories, and I grew up watching my father work a full-time job and then come home and write every single day to get his stories on paper."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, May 1, 2003, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Judgment Calls, p. 1536.
Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 2003, review of Judgment Calls, p. 766; April 15, 2004, review of Missing Justice, p. 363; May 15, 2005, review of Close Case, p. 564.
Library Bookwatch, May, 2005, review of Judgment Calls.
Library Journal, May 15, 2003, Craig Shufelt, review of Judgment Calls, p. 122; May 15, 2004, Craig Shufelt, review of Missing Justice, p. 119; June 15, 2005, Stacy Alesi, review of Close Case, p. 64.
Publishers Weekly, September 30, 2002, John F. Baker, "Carrying on the Burke Franchise," p. 14; May 26, 2003, review of Judgment Calls, p. 43; May 31, 2004, review of Missing Justice, p. 55; May 30, 2005, review of Close Case, p. 42; August 22, 2005, review of Close Case, p. 49.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, August 6, 2003, Oline H. Cogdill, review of Judgment Calls.
Alafair Burke Home Page, http://www.alafairburke.com (October 18, 2005).
BookLoons, http://www.bookloons.com/ (October 28, 2005), Hilary Williamson, interview with Burke.
BookPage, http://www.bookpage.com/ (October 18, 2005), Jay MacDonald, "Like Father, like Daughter: For the Burkes, Crime Fiction Is All in the Family."
Book Place, http://www.thebookplace.com/ (October 18, 2005), Lucy Watson, interview with Burke.
Bookreporter, http://www.bookreporter.com/ (October 18, 2005), Kate Ayers, review of Judgment Calls.
Brothers Judd Web site, http://www.brothersjudd.com/ (June 30, 2004), Mary-Ellen Walker, review of Missing Justice.
Hofstra University School of Law Web site, http://www.hofstra.edu/ (October 18, 2005), "Alafair S. Burke."
January Online, http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (November 9, 2005), Sarah Weinman, review of Judgment Calls.
Novel View, http://www.anovelview.com/ (October 28, 2005), interview with Burke.
Shots: The Crime & Mystery Magazine, http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/ (October 18, 2005), Ali Karim, interview with Alafair Burke.