“One of the finest young crime writers working today.”
Alafair Burke is the author of “two power house series” (Sun-Sentinel) that have earned her a reputation for creating strong, believable, and eminently likable female characters, such as NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher and Portland Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid. Alafair’s novels grow out of her experience as a prosecutor in America’s police precincts and criminal courtrooms, and have been featured by The Today Show, People Magazine, The New York Times, MSNBC, The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Chicago Sun-Times. According to Entertainment Weekly, Alafair “is a terrific web spinner” who “knows when and how to drop clues to keep readers at her mercy.”
“A major talent.”—Harlan Coben
A graduate of Stanford Law School and a former Deputy District Attorney in Portland, Oregon, Alafair is now a Professor of Law at Hofstra Law School, where she teaches criminal law and procedure. Her novels have been praised by some of the world’s most respected crime writers, including Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Nelson DeMille, Sue Grafton, Dennis Lehane, Laura Lippman, Karin Slaughter, Lisa Scottoline, and Lisa Unger.
A Fascination With Crime
Alafair’s professional life stems from a long fascination with all things crime-related: the horrible acts of which human beings are capable, the strategies used to solve and prosecute crimes, and the punishments doled out upon the convicted.
Alafair’s immersion into those questions began in childhood when her parents moved the family in the late 1970’s from the chaos of a changing southern Florida to a supposedly quiet and provincial neighborhood in Wichita, Kansas. The moving boxes had just been unpacked when Wichita police announced a connection among seven unsolved murders of women and even children. The man who claimed responsibility called himself BTK, a gruesome acronym, short for “Bind, Torture, Kill.” The Burke’s new home fell squarely within the serial killer’s stalking territory. Like other children in Wichita in that era, Alafair learned to check the phone lines to be sure they weren’t cut, to keep the basement door locked at all times, and to barricade herself in the bathroom with the phone if she had to call 911.
In a world where the killer could be anyone, and where an arrest appeared hopeless, Alafair found comfort in crime fiction. Her mother, Pearl, was a school librarian and would take her each week to the public library for a new stack of books. She moved from the Encyclopedia Brown series to Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie and eventually to Sue Grafton. In the books, as opposed to Wichita, smart sleuthing always paid off, and order was always restored.
Meanwhile, she read everything she could find about the unsolved murders, believing (ridiculously, she now realizes) that she could break the case if she only had access to all of the evidence. Unfortunately, police would not make an arrest for another thirty years.
Alafair attended Reed College, where she fell in love with Portland, Oregon. Considered rebellious and off the beaten path in Wichita, she was perceived quite differently at the college whose unofficial slogan was “Atheism, Communism, Free Love.” Fellow dormies (lovingly) called her Nancy Reagan and The Cheerleader. In Judgment Calls, Alafair takes a (loving) jab at Reed when Samantha Kincaid notes that the locals refer to Reed as “that hippie school.”
After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Reed, Alafair went to the decidedly less hippy-ish Stanford Law School. Although she momentarily flirted with the idea of becoming an entertainment lawyer so she could make deals at the Palm and get tickets to the Oscars, she eventually realized she had watched Robert Altman’s “The Player” one too many times, and instead decided to pursue criminal law after spending a semester in an externship with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Portland. She graduated from Stanford with distinction, earning admission into the Order of the Coif, and then accepted a coveted judicial clerkship with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals before turning to an appointment as a Deputy District Attorney in Portland.
As a prosecutor, Alafair worked primarily in two positions, as a trial lawyer prosecuting domestic violence offenses and as a liaison to the police department, where she worked directly out of the police precinct, trained officers in search and seizure, and wore a Kevlar vest for night-shift ride alongs.
After five years of working at the District Attorney’s Office, Alafair was ready to marry her love of crime fiction with the stories and knowledge she had gathered as a prosecutor. By then, she could imagine the kinds of settings, characters, and dialogue that should color a series set in the Portland prosecutor’s office. She also had a plot, inspired by two actual cases that arose while she was in the office.
That first novel, Judgment Calls, introduced readers to feisty Portland prosecutor Samantha Kincaid. Judgment Calls immediately made Alafair a “comer and a keeper” (Chicago Tribune) and “the real deal (January Magazine). The novel was praised by the Washington Post as “first-rate, suspenseful entertainment” and by the Houston Chronicle as a “grabber of a first novel.” Some of Alafair’s favorite writers — Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Jan Burke, Sue Grafton, and Linda Fairstein — lent their endorsements.
Two other Samantha Kincaid novels followed, Missing Justice and Close Case. By that time, however, Alafair had been living in New York City for three years, where she currently teaches criminal law and procedure at Hofstra Law School. She was ready to take on a story set in iconic Manhattan. She was also ready to write about the criminal justice system from a police officer’s perspective, putting to use the first-hand experience she had gathered working out of a precinct. From that desire, NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher was born.
In Ellie, Alafair wanted to create a character different from Samantha Kincaid and every other female protagonist in crime fiction. Ellie (like Alafair) was raised in Wichita, Kansas. Her father was a WPD detective who spent his career hunting a serial killer who evaded police for thirty years (sound familiar?). It wasn’t only the Wichita connection that came from Alafair’s own back story. In the first Ellie Hatcher book, Dead Connection, Ellie tracks a serial killer who uses an online dating service to locate his victims. Not coincidentally, Alafair met her husband, Sean, on Match.com. Somewhat perversely, she dedicated the book to him, writing, “For Sean, I can’t believe I found you on a computer.”
The Family and the Name
Alafair is the daughter of Pearl and James Lee Burke. Mom was a librarian, Dad was an English professor and is still a writer. The house was filled with story telling and books. Alafair is the youngest of four children and a doting aunt to three nephews and a niece.
Alafair is often asked about the origin of her name, especially by readers who are familiar with the fictional character, Alafair Robicheaux, featured in her father’s novels. Alafair was named for her father’s maternal grandmother. It was a more common name in the United States, particularly the south, at the turn of the twentieth century. Now it is a name that belongs to her, two of her cousins, and, from what she can find on Google, ten cats, two dogs, an alpaca, and a boat.
Away From the Computer and Outside the Classroom
When Alafair is not teaching classes, reading, or writing (either the books that people read or the law review articles that gather dust in the library), she is usually doing something to rot her brain. She runs to an iPod playlist with three continuous hours of spaz music (think “It Takes Two” by DJ Rob Bass, “Smooth Criminal” by Alien Art Farm, and “Planet Claire” by the B-52’s). She insists that Duran Duran, the Psychedelic Furs, and the Cure hold up just as well as the so-called classics. She watches way too much television, usually on cable. She thinks Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Arrested Development are heaven. She likes to drink wine and cook. And when the schedule and the weather permit, she will golf at the drop of a hat and hopes she will someday qualify for a senior LPGA tour.
Alafair and Sean added to the family in 2005 by adopting a 7 pound French bulldog puppy (yes, the same breed as Sam Kincaid’s little monster, Vinnie). Alafair wanted to name the dog Stacy Keach for obvious reasons. Unfortunately, Sean vetoed her and was not to be overridden. For two weeks, they called the dog Puppy until they agreed on the name Duffer, a play on both their mutual love of golf and the Duffman character from the Simpsons. The Duffer became a thirty pound beast of a dog but was the sweetest, most playful spirit you could ever want to meet. He was extremely well behaved despite being ridiculously spoiled. He eventually inspired Alafair’s annual Duffer Awards. His life was happy but too short.
Today, Alafair and Sean share their apartment with another little guy named Double-Bogey Duffer Burke Simpson. He’s known as Double for short.
Praise for Alafair Burke:
“She’s got what it takes . . . Expertly shows that the most gripping drama is not found in the courtroom but in the places where choices get made in the shadows cast by politics and corruption and human desires.”
“Smart, savvy, expert — and highly recommended.”
“Alafair Burke has been on the front lines in the courtroom and on the streets, and brings her world alive . . .”
“Alafair Burke is one of the finest young crime writers working today.”
“A major talent.”
“[Alafair Burke] is a terrific web spinner. She knows when and how to drop clues to keep readers at her mercy.”
- Alafair’s Facebook page
- Alafair’s Twitter Feed
- Contact Alafair Burke
- Sign up for Alafair’s mailing list
- Read an interview with Alafair about Dead Connection
- Read a Q&A with Alafair about Dead Connection
- Read an interview with Alafair about Missing Justice
- Alafair and James Lee Burke interviewed on NPR
- Listen to an audio interview on writtenvoices.com