Burke, Alafair (Alafair S. Burke)
Burke, Alafair (Alafair S. Burke)
Born in Fort Lauderdale, FL; daughter of James Lee (a novelist) and Pearl (an artist) Burke; married Sean Simpson. Education: Reed College, B.A., 1991; Stanford Law School, J.D. (with distinction), 1994.
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.
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.
"ELLIE HATCHER" MYSTERIES
Dead Connection, Henry Holt (New York, NY), 2007.
Contributor of articles to legal reviews.
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 Web site 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, 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 chose to set most of the action in Close Case outside of the courtroom. Discussing that decision with ReadersRoom.com Web site interviewer Rob Holden, Burke stated: "Because of the limiting nature of courtroom discourse, telling a story through courthouse scenes is not very dramatic in my view. Also, realistically, prosecutors spend little of their time in actual trials. Instead, they occupy this world in between the police precinct and the courtroom, where the real action takes place in the criminal justice system. It's there where the important decisions get made about whom the investigation will target and how the investigation will proceed. I find that world a much more fascinating place than the courtroom itself."
In Dead Connection, Burke introduces New York City detective Ellie Hatcher. Still haunted by memories of her father, a hardworking Kansas police officer who died under mysterious circumstances when she was just a teenager, Hatcher is asked to look into a series of murders linked to FirstDate, an online dating service. Assigned to work with eccentric homicide detective Flann McIlroy, Hatcher comes to believe that a serial killer is using the site to lure women to their deaths. As the pair attempt to delve deeper into the crimes, they find identity theft, the Russian Mafia, and department corruption. Though a Publishers Weekly critic believed that "Ellie's character never quite gels," Curled up with a Good Book Web site contributor Rex Allen called her "a complex character with a bit of internal darkness," adding: "Burke displays smooth and elegant pacing in Dead Connection, guiding characters and readers alike through a tangled skein of multiple crimes in realistic fits and starts." According to Entertainment Weekly reviewer Karen Valby, the author "is a terrific web spinner."
Though Dead Connection takes place in the detective bureau instead of the courthouse, Burke had little trouble making the transition. "I'm still writing from experience, but from a different perspective," the author told a New Mystery Reader Web site contributor. "For two years while I was a prosecutor, I worked directly out of a police precinct, going on ride-alongs with cops, leading in-service trainings, and teaming up on preindictment investigations. I learned more about policing in my first month at that precinct than I'd learned my entire time at the D.A.'s office. There's no question it's helping me write about policing with authenticity." Despite the grim subject matter of Dead Connection, Burke has no objections to online dating; in fact, she met her husband through an Internet dating site. "Meeting people online is no more dangerous than the old-fashioned way, as long as people are aware," she told Library Journal interviewer Stacy Alesi. "The risks aren't inherent in the Internet; they're inherent when people let their guards down. A street-smart woman, for example, would never think to wander off to an unknown location with a stranger, but people forget that the charming emails they receive online are from total strangers. That's why I had to write about the dangers, even though it worked out beautifully for me."
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.
Entertainment Weekly, June 29, 2007, Karen Valby, review of Dead Connection, p. 141.
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; May 1, 2007, Stacy Alesi, "Alafair Burke," p. 70.
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; May 7, 2007, review of Dead Connection, p. 44.
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, August 6, 2003, Oline H. Cogdill, review of Judgment Calls.
Alafair Burke Home Page,http://www.alafairburke.com (September 25, 2007).
Alafair Burke MySpace Page,http://www.myspace.com/alafairburke (November 3, 2008).
BookLoons,http://www.bookloons.com/ (September 25, 2007), Theresa Ichino, review of Dead Connection.
BookPage,http://www.bookpage.com/ (October 9, 2007), Jay MacDonald, "Like Father, like Daughter: For the Burkes, Crime Fiction Is All in the Family."
Book Place,http://www.thebookplace.com/ (September 25, 2007), Lucy Watson, interview with Alafair Burke.
Bookreporter,http://www.bookreporter.com/ (September 25, 2007), Kate Ayers, review of Judgment Calls.
Curled up with a Good Book,http://www.curledup.com/ (September 25, 2007), Rex Allen, review of Dead Connection.
Hofstra University,http://www.hofstra.edu/ (September 25, 2007), "Alafair S. Burke."
January Online,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (June, 2003), Sarah Weinman, review of Judgment Calls.
New Mystery Reader,http://newmysteryreader.com/ (October 9, 2007), "Interview with Alafair Burke."
ReadersRoom.com,http://www.readersroom.com/ (September 25, 2007), Rob Holden, "Alafair Burke."
Shots,http://www.shotsmag.co.uk/ (September 25, 2007), Ali Karim, interview with Alafair Burke.