After graduating Stanford Law School, Alafair eventually became a Deputy District Attorney in Portland, Oregon, prosecuting domestic violence and serving as liaison to the police department. Her appreciation for the work police do propelled her into riding along with the night-shift officers. It seemed inevitable that her love of reading and crime would one day merge. That juncture occurred in her debut novel “Judgment Calls,” which received critical acclaim from coast to coast. “Judgment Calls” introduced the world to prosecutor Samantha Kincaid. Readers couldn’t get enough. Two more Kincaid novels followed.
Alafair herself moved to New York where she now teaches at Hofstra Law School. She also married Sean, whom she met through an online dating service. Alafair was ready to spread her literary wings. In “Dead Connection,” NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher tracks a serial killer stalking an online dating service for victims. Uhm… Alafair? Anything you want to tell us? Once again, readers wanted more, and Ellie developed into a successful series.
This past December, Alafair released the thriller novel “Long Gone,” which the Today Show proclaimed “the one book you can’t put down.” “Long Gone” is a new step for Alafair in that the heroine Alice Humphrey is neither an attorney nor police officer, but a business woman caught in a nightmare of murder and the focus of law enforcement’s investigation.
Now, “Never Tell,” the latest Ellie Hatcher crime/suspense novel is being released, and once again Alafair’s storytelling mastery shines through in a tale of a young woman who committed suicide, and a mother who refuses to believe it despite Hatcher’s assurances. But even Ellie Hatcher can be wrong….
Alafair Burke creates imagery and characters that come to life in readers’ minds. Her stories provide intrigue, her plots turn unexpected corners, and her superb prose keeps the reader turning the page. What’s next from Alafair? We can only impatiently wait and see.
Q) What inspired the character Alice Humphrey?
A) Believe it or not, it was the economy. Wait, wait, that makes her and the books sound really boring, doesn’t it? Stay with me! I was reading all of these stories about unemployment – not the numbers, but the psychological toll that prolonged unemployment brings. I started thinking about the risks someone might be willing to take, just to have a job. And I’d walk around New York, seeing all these closed store fronts and started wondering what it would be like to show up to work one day and find that everything was gone. From that came Alice Humphrey. After eight months of unemployment, she’s desperate enough to take a job that sounds too good to be true. And it turns out to be a big mistake. Voila! Book plot.
Q) Your characterization skills are marvelous in that you know how much of a character to share with a reader, yet hold back just enough to make the reader yearn to know more. It’s not as easy as it sounds. How did you hone this ability?
A) Thanks. Years ago, I heard Barry Levinson talking about the making of RAIN MAN. He explained that he shot the entire film in order, scene by scene, so that Tom Cruise’s character could evolve naturally from beginning to end. I write my books without an outline, from beginning to end. So when I make story choices, I’m still discovering the characters myself. It’s probably an insane way to write a book, but it’s the only way I know how to do it, and I’ve found that it’s a good way to obtain an organic connection between character and plot. It probably also explains why readers experience the feeling of discovering the characters across the arc of the novel.
Q) In an interview, you discussed how setting (place) plays a major role in the development of your books. Does “place” inspire your work more than characters, or is there a balance that occurs during your creative process?
A) Character is key for me, but place affects character. Some characters can exist only in their current habitats. Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch would be a different man in Tampa than in Los Angeles. Samantha Kincaid belongs in Portland, and Ellie Hatcher belongs in New York.
Stories can also be unique to a setting. In New York, for example, I can't have characters coincidentally bumping into everyone they know on the street. I can, however, tap into that uniquely New York feeling of being completely alone in a crowd. Consider LONG GONE, the story of a woman who shows up to work one morning to find her gallery completely gone — stripped vacant as if it had never been there. The man who hired her is dead on the bare floor. Suddenly she realizes that everything she thought she knew was a lie. She cannot find the true owner of the business. She cannot prove that the artist she represented ever really existed. That kind of story only works if it's completely believable that Alice lived her day-to-day life around people she had no real connections with. That's a true New York story, and Alice — from a family of privilege and celebrity, but struggling to make her own way — is a uniquely New York woman.
Q) Your father claims you were reading “Cool Hand Luke” when you were five years old, and wrote your first crime story in the first grade. What so captivated you about crime at such an early age?
A) I have no idea. It probably has something to do with watching Batman every morning before I went to day care. Stories about good versus evil have always pulled me in. And when we moved to Wichita, Kansas, during the middle of BTK’s killing spree, I learned a little too much, a little too early, about what evil could really mean. The police were very secretive about the investigation, and part of me always felt like I would be able to find him, if only I had access to all of the information. Silly for a nine year old, huh? But I think that’s what drew me to reading mystery novels. The author makes an implied promise to the reader that the information will come out and the pieces will ultimately come together.
Q) TV news has asked for your professional viewpoints on cases such as Scott Peterson. How difficult is it to publicly address issues knowing your words may sway people’s minds in one direction or another? Also, you are a very gifted speaker who draws a listener’s attention. Have or would you consider a TV show of your own?
A) I do those punditry gigs out of a sense of public service. The usual talking heads are often extremists on both sides and they’re often out to make a name for themselves. I try not to spin a story. I simply take the legal knowledge I’m lucky to have and try to provide enough of a background for the audience to draw its own conclusions. I have no interest in pursuing that as a career, however. The battle for ratings, in my view, has seriously deteriorated the quality of journalism in this country.
Q) Any parting comments for established fans and those yet to read one of your novels?
A) I have the most supportive readers on the planet, so thank them at every possible opportunity. If someone hasn’t read me yet, why, I hope they’ll give the books a try!
DA Kentner is an author and journalist. www.kevad.net