Alafair Burke is the author of what the Sun-Sentinal has hailed as “two power house series” featuring NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher and Portland Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid. Alafair’s novelsgrow out of her love for writing, her experience as a prosecutor in America’s police precincts and criminal courtrooms, and her ability to create strong, believable, and eminently likable female characters. According to Entertainment Weekly, Alafair “is a terrific web spinner” who “knows when and how to drop clues to keep readers at her mercy.”
Her most recent novel, Angel’s Tip, has been praised by Faye Kellerman as “a riveting read that snaps with the beat of New York. Be prepared for a knuckle-biting journey that’ll keep you turning pages until the very end.” Tami Hoag says, “Alafair Burke has created a winning heroine in Ellie Hatcher, someone to root for not only in this book, but I hope in many more tales as yet untold.” According to Sandra Brown, “Alafair Burke is one of those rare writers whose books are both scary and cerebral. Complex plotting, multi-layered characters, a creepy serial killer – in Angel’s Tip, Burke has once again proven herself a terrific storyteller.”
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.
The Road to the Courtroom
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
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