Please welcome Alafair Burke, author of the successful legal series featuring DA Samantha Kincaid, and author of the stunning new title featuring Detective Ellie Hatcher!
Interview with Alafair Burke:
1. Congratulations on your new title! This latest is quite the departure from your previous legal thrillers; so why don't you tell us a bit about your new character and where she comes from?
DEAD CONNECTION introduces NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher. Ellie has been a detective for only a year when a more seasoned but controversial and publicity-hungry detective in the homicide squad taps her to help him track down a killer. The killer is using an online dating service to target young women. Ellie fits the profile of the victims, and she herself is haunted by thoughts of a serial killer who she believes killed her detective father where she grew up in Wichita, Kansas.
Ellie is a very different character from Samantha Kincaid, the protagonist from my first three novels. Although both excel at their jobs in fields dominated by men, Ellie shoulders more responsibility in her life as a woman outside of work. She has a second job taking care of her family -- long distance in the case of her mother, still living in Wichita, Kansas, and on the couch of her living room in the case of her mooching older brother, Jess. She also has more at stake in her cases.
2. With your background being in criminal law, it was no doubt a familiar world in which you created your legal series; so how fun and/or difficult was it to create a story from this new perspective of investigation?
Iím still writing from experience, but from a different perspective. For two years while I was a prosecutor, I worked directly out of a police precinct, going on ride-alongs with cops, leading in-service trainings, and teaming up on pre-indictment investigations. I learned more about policing in my first month at that precinct than Iíd learned my entire time at the D.A.ís Office. Thereís no question itís helping me write about policing with authenticity. Itís been a fun change for me.
3. With a successful series of three legal suspense titles under your belt, why did you decide to change your approach this time out?
I wanted a change in both the geographic and procedural setting. I started writing right after I moved from Portland, Oregon, and I set my first books there as a way of dealing with being homesick. But I have finally made the transition to New York. My heart and thoughts are here now, and I wanted my writing to reflect that.
I also wanted to switch gears from courthouse life. The Samantha books have cops, but theyíre depicted from Samanthaís perspective. I wanted to write about crime from a copís perspective, and felt I was ready for the stretch.
DEAD CONNECTION turned out to be the right book to make the changes. When I met my husband online a few years ago, I knew the experience was great crime fiction fodder, and the story was perfect for both a Manhattan setting and a police procedural.
4. While both your legal series and this new outing feature strong and independent women, Detective Ellie Hatcher seems a bit more intense and rough around the edges than DA Samantha Kincaid- is this just the result of their perspective roles, or is there more to it?
Ellieís had a rougher life than Samantha. With Sam, I intentionally created a woman whoís a relatively healthy, happy, and normal person, and itís just her job that pulls her into these stories and often keeps her from being content. Ellie is darker at heart. She doesnít have the privileges that define Sam (no Harvard or Stanford degrees in her pedigree). Because of her fatherís insatiable obsession with a killer, she grew up surrounded by images of torture and sadism that no child should ever see. And she is plagued by questions about her fatherís mysterious death, which she refuses to accept as a suicide. Unlike Sam, she tries very hard to be normal and happy, but ultimately she may not have the bones for that kind of existence.
5. Does having a legal background make it easier or harder when writing a legal suspense novel; meaning do you feel more disposed to stick with a certain reality because you know it so well, thereby somewhat tempering where you might want to go with it, or is it the opposite? And as such, did you feel you had more wiggle room when writing a detective novel?
I never have to do any research when it comes to procedure, so thatís certainly helpful. But as a law professor who teaches and writes about criminal procedure, I just canít bring myself to have characters (either cops or prosecutors) do stuff theyíd never do in real life, even though it would certainly make my life easier as a writer. I have learned with time to suppress my inner law-geek and spare the reader all the details. But trust me, if anyone emails saying, why did the cops get to do x without a warrant, I do have an answer, even if I donít put all the details on the page anymore.
6. It's obvious you know all sides of crime pretty well; which do you find most compelling: the crime itself, the criminal, the investigation, or the prosecution?
All of it. All crime, all the time. Ever since I was a kid growing up in Wichita, Kansas, under the shadow of the BTK, I have been fascinated by the horrible things people are capable of doing, the ways they are caught, and societyís justifications for and limits to punishment. Itís why I practiced criminal law. Itís what I write about as an academic. And itís what brought me to crime fiction.
7. Now a bit about your background. How did it impact your desire and confidence having a father who is also well known novelist?
I always found writing a very natural process, and that no doubt came from having a librarian mom who encouraged me to read and a father who sat down to write every single day.
8. As for the actual creating/writing/publishing/promoting; which part do you find most gratifying, and which do you find most difficult?
The writing itself is extremely satisfying. Iím the kind of person who loves having sixteen hours straight where I can sit at my desk in my pajamas and do nothing but write. But hearing from readers who take the time to send an email, just to say they liked the book, is unbelievably rewarding. With my academic writing, Iím lucky to get a couple of footnotes citing my work. Getting to know the vast mystery book community out there has been an unanticipated perk.
9. And just for fun, who is one of your favorite fictional characters ever written?
Carl Hiassenís vigilante ex-governor, Skink
10. And finally, dare we hope that we will see Ellie Hatcher return and, if not, what's next for your fans to look forward to?
Iím working on the next Ellie Hatcher book now, in fact. I originally thought DEAD CONNECTION would be a standalone, but realized when I finished the last chapter that she has a lot of stories left in her.
A former deputy district attorney in Portland, Oregon, Alafair Burke is a professor at Hofstra Law School, where she teaches criminal law and procedure. The daughter of acclaimed crime writer James Lee Burke, she graduated with distinction from Stanford Law School, completed a judicial clerkship with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and serves as a legal and trial commentator for various radio and television programs. She lives in New York City with her husband and their french bulldog Duffer.