Alafair Burke Interview, plus links to author biography, book summaries, excerpts and reviews

Alafair Burke
alafairburke.com

Alafair Burke

An interview with Alafair Burke

Alafair Burke discusses her Samantha Kincaid mystery series and gives a surprising reply when asked if she's following in her father, James Lee Burke's, footsteps!

Would you say you're following in the footsteps of your father, James Lee Burke?

Actually, when it comes to mysteries, you could say my father followed in my footsteps. Many people don't know that he published several works before turning to crime fiction with The Neon Rain, so no one thought of my father as a mystery writer during my formative years. I, however, was a huge fan of the genre. I plowed through the entire Encyclopedia Brown series and used to steal time with my dad's manual Royal typewriter to hammer out page turners like "Murder at the Roller Disco." So, for the record, I beat my dad to the mystery punch.

Clearly, though, he's been a huge influence on me. What I really think I inherited from my family more than any particular writing style (or talent for that matter) is a narrative tradition. 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. That clearly affected me and turned me into someone who is able to sit down and write. People have asked if I worked to find my own voice. The work would be in trying not to have a different voice. My father is a man of his generation raised in the south, and I'm not. So of course our works are incredibly different.


Samantha Kincaid, your protagonist, is a district attorney. What led you to choose this profession for her?

I guess this goes back to the rule of write what you know. I was a Deputy District Attorney in Oregon, so my personal experience with crimes and how they are solved comes from that perspective. I also think that the role of the prosecutor is fascinating and relatively unexplored territory. Most accounts of the criminal justice system -– both fictionalized and not -– tend to tell the story of a trial from the defense perspective. One gets the impression that a crime is committed, the police either get their man or they don't, and then the defense goes to work trying to prevent a conviction. The story that's rarely told is the prosecutor's. A bad prosecutor can blow a good case through incompetence or apathy or press a bad case out of blind ambition. Prosecutors are entrusted with a tremendous amount of power and responsibility. Doing the job well requires incredibly hard work and good judgment.


Does Kincaid's profession allow you any flexibility or options other professions might not?

Sure. As a prosecutor, Samantha gets to straddle the line between the investigation stage of a case and the trial. If your protagonist is a cop or a PI, she runs the show during the chase, but then falls to the background when it comes time to put on the proof. A defense attorney's a player during the trial, but has little room to maneuver before court proceedings start. I enjoy the flexibility Samantha's position gives me to unfold the plot either during an investigation or as part of a trial.


Is Samantha Kincaid modeled on anyone you know?

Samantha's educational and professional experiences are definitely based on my own. Like me, Samantha graduated from Stanford Law School and turned down more lucrative job offers to work as a state court prosecutor in a city she loved. I like to think that her most noble characteristics -– her desire to stand up to perversions of justice and always feel good at the end of the day about the decisions she made - are shared not just by me, but by most people. Hopefully the reader will see in Samantha a woman with an almost consuming determination to do what is right, no matter the personal cost. I saw that obsession in some of the people I was lucky enough to work with in Portland. They're some of the finest people I've ever known, and I intended Samantha to embody their fortitude.

In some ways, Samantha's clearly better than I am. She's taller, more diligent, and could beat me in a race without breaking a sweat. As for some of Samantha's more neurotic traits, I plead the Fifth.


You're currently teaching criminal law at Hofstra. Do you draw any inspiration for your fiction from your work?

I remember as a law student watching an episode of Law and Order. The detectives were about to take a guy into custody outside his apartment, and the older guy told the young one to wait, then made the arrest after the suspect opened his car trunk. I had just learned about a rule that lets police search the "grab area" around an arrest, and I thought it was so cool to watch the show and understand why the detective had done that, so he could search the trunk without a warrant. I see my students react the same way to law taught through pop culture.


Any friendly competition between you and your father?

No way. He's way too cool to compete with.

Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten.

Find out more

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
    The Mystery of Mrs. Christie
    by Marie Benedict
    The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict, notable author of previous historical fiction such ...
  • Book Jacket: To Be a Man
    To Be a Man
    by Nicole Krauss
    While, as its title hints, To Be a Man by Nicole Krauss is concerned with masculinity, it renders a ...
  • Book Jacket: The Office of Historical Corrections
    The Office of Historical Corrections
    by Danielle Evans
    In The Office of Historical Corrections, the second story collection from Danielle Evans, readers ...
  • Book Jacket
    The Dutch House
    by Ann Patchett

    The Dutch House is my introduction to Ann Patchett, which, after reading it, surprises me. I had ...


Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Prophets
    by Robert Jones Jr.

    A stunning debut novel about the forbidden union between two enslaved young men on a Deep South plantation.

    Reader Reviews
  • Book Jacket

    At the Edge of the Haight
    by Katherine Seligman

    Winner of the 2019 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction.

    Reader Reviews
Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Moment of Lift
by Melinda Gates
How can we summon a moment of lift for women? Because when you lift up women, you lift up humanity.
Who Said...

The low brow and the high brow

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

T M T C, T M T Stay T S

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.