Author Q & A

Dead Connection

From Library Journal
May 1, 2007

In 2003, Alafair Burke, the daughter of crime fiction novelist James Lee Burke, burst onto the legal thriller scene with Judgment Calls.
Drawn from the author’s own experiences as a deputy district attorney in Portland, OR, the novel introduced Portland deputy DA Samantha Kincaid, whose adventures continued in Missing Justice (2004) and Close Case (2005).

Burke’s first standalone, Dead Connection (see review on p. 69), makes its debut in July. Set in New York City, where Burke now lives, it follows detective Ellie Hatcher as she seeks to link two murders to an online dating service.

Did you find it intimidating to follow in the very large footsteps of your father?

I didn’t even consider my relationship with my father when I was writing my first book. Then as the novel was about to be published, it dawned on me that people would obviously make the connection. I dreaded a deluge of readers demanding their money back because my books weren’t set in the bayou. Fortunately, my work is so different from my father’s that people realize I’m doing my own thing. My parents are delighted that I’m writing, but my father’s support, like my mother’s, is parental and not specifically as a writer. I’m grateful for that.

Laura Lippman claims she hides references to Robert B. Parker’s mysteries in her own books. Dead Connection has a thinly veiled reference to your father’s most famous character, and you share your name with another of his characters. Is this an ongoing or one-time only thing?

I have tremendous fun with all of the crime fiction cross references. I was so delighted to see that in Lee Child’s new book, Bad Luck and Trouble, Jack Reacher spends two nights with a Portland prosecutor named Samantha, a reference to my earlier series character. In Dead Connection, Ellie Hatcher notices a woman reading Laura Lippman’s To the Power of Three. I hadn’t planned on bringing Dave Robicheaux into this book, but when Ellie needed to contact a law enforcement officer in New Iberia, LA, it only made sense that it should be Dave. After so many years of reading my father’s writing about the fictional Alafair Robicheaux, writing Dave’s voice was a blast. I have no idea if the crossover will ever happen again. Can you imagine Dave Robicheaux in New York?

The plot of Dead Connection focuses on a deadly Internet dating service, but you met your husband online and your book’s dedication reads, “For Sean Simpson, I can’t believe I found you on a computer.” Is this the way to meet people in 2007?

When I first met Sean, I was mortified when people asked how we met.

Now I just answer the question because I know how common Internet dating has become. Meeting people online is no more dangerous than the old-fashioned way, as long as people are aware. 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.

Your new book doesn’t go near a courtroom, and your main character is a New York City cop. With three legal thrillers under your belt, were you feeling more confident about writing something outside your frame of reference?

Where did you get your inspiration for Ellie Hatcher?

I’m still writing what I know. The Internet dating plot grew directly out of my own experience. I live in New York now and wanted to write something set here. And I know police procedure and cop culture. I worked out of a precinct as a prosecutor for two years and taught search and seizure and use of force law to police. Even though the professional resemblance to Samantha Kincaid is more obvious, Ellie Hatcher carries more of my personal story.
Like me, she was raised in Wichita, KS, and a large part of her backstory is her decision to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a police officer.

You live in Manhattan and teach law at Hofstra University on Long Island. Do you enjoy your commute, or do you plan to write full-time and give up teaching?

I’m the rare author who loves her day job. I have academic freedom, my colleagues are intellectually challenging, and I have time to write both legal scholarship and fiction. If a car ride is my only complaint in life, I really don’t have much to complain about.

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