It is rare that you find an author which such intimate knowledge of the subject matter they are writing about. Whether it is a middle age man writing about the struggles of a teenage girl or a suburban middle class woman writing about a shady government organisation, the literary profession is full of authors who research and write in fields they have no experience of. Alafair Burke is not like these writers.
Burke’s literary work focuses on a subject with which she is intimately familiar – crime and law. As a graduate of Stanford Law School, a former Deputy District Attorney in Portland, Oregon, and current Professor of Law at Hofstra Law School, Burke clearly has the knowledge and experience of the criminal law system. This makes her novels all the more grounded in realism, and her attention to detail impeccable. Burke’s female leads elevate her novels, making them all well worth your attention.
Burke’s first foray into the world of literature came in 2003 with the publication of Judgement Calls. The novel introduced Portland prosecutor Samantha Kincaid (who would be featured in two further books Missing Justice and Close Case). Judgement Calls focused on the assault of a thirteen year old girl, and features a narrative which only gets more interesting as the novel progresses. The revelation of the girl’s occasional prostitution and drug habits muddy the waters of the case, and further leaks and revelations keep the momentum going. What makes this novel the impressive debut it was is the detailed knowledge and attention to the process of bringing a case to court. The book was endorsed by the likes of Lee Child and Michael Connelly, signalling approval of Burke from the wider crime writing community.
Burke then turned her attention to a new female hero, this time in the form of NYPD police detective Ellie Hatcher. Published in 2007, Dead Connection changed Burke’s criminal focus from the prosecuting perspective to the detective. As the daughter of a detective killed by a serial killer he was hunting Hatcher is a different kind of female detective. Angel’s Tip (published in the UK as City of Fear) and 212 (published in the UK as City of Lies) followed in 2008 and 2010 respectively.
In 2014 it was announced by publishers Simon and Schuster that Alafair Burke and Mary Higgins Clarke, another significant figure in the world of suspense and crime fiction, were working together on a new series. These books, the Under Suspicion series focuses on Laurie Moran, a television producer who has created a reality documentary series on cold cases. So far Burke and Higgins Clarke have collaborated on three books, The Cinderella Murder (2014), All Dressed in White (2015) and The Sleeping Beauty Killer (2016).
Burke has also written several standalone novels, the most recent being The Ex, an exploration of what you would do if you were faced with the one who got away, who just happens to be accused of murder. Featuring another interesting and well rounded female figure, this time in the shape of Olivia Randall, a top defence attorney, The Ex has an engaging plot, with an entirely surprising twist ending.
Did you know?
- Burke is daughter to James Lee Burke, renowned crime writer; they have written an impressive 49 books between them.
- Burke is very active on Twitter, and in addition to information about her writing and books, also provides interesting legal insights into significant political occurrences. You can find her at @alafairburke.
- Burke has two dogs, Double and Frannie, whose antics frequently feature in her email newsletters.
Book to read: The Ex (You can read our review here).