Compare Burke’s CV to Kincaid’s bio and you’ll find more than a passing resemblance. Burke grew up in Wichita, Kansas, and attended Reed. Kincaid grew up in Southeast Portland (and knew Reed by its somewhat unsavory reputation) and attended Harvard. From there, they both studied law at Stanford and landed the kinds of jobs one expects of a Stanford law grad.
Kincaid’s career backstory includes a prestigious position in the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York, followed by marriage to a sleazy, two-timing, hotshot lawyer who works for Nike. His job brings them to Portland, where, after a bitter divorce, Kincaid takes an entry-level job as a deputy district attorney in the vice division. As Judgment Calls begins, she has just been given a case in the Major Crimes Unit, which prosecutes serious felonies including rape and murder.
Burke’s career includes summer jobs at Portland’s top corporate law firm, Stoel Rives, an externship with the U.S. Attorney’s office, and a clerkship with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. After that, she became a deputy district attorney in Portland, trying more than 30 criminal cases.
And this is where the author and her fictional alter ego part ways. After several years as a prosecutor, Burke left cop shops and courtrooms behind. She moved to New York and joined the faculty at Hofstra University Law School, where she is up for tenure this year.
As of novel number three, Samantha Kincaid is still sticking it out in the rough-and-tumble world of the Portland D.A.’s office. Her on-again off-again relationship with the handsome detective is off again. She has faced down ruthless pimps who traffic in child prostitutes, wealthy land speculators who kill for economic gain, and corrupt cops who murder old ladies to protect their racket. She is bruised—physically and emotionally—but ready for more.
“Samantha is an extreme version of me,” Burke says. “Her dry sarcastic sense of humor, her cynicism. Samantha’s values and voice are pretty close to mine.” In a posting on her website (www.alafairburke.com) Burke even admits to a bit of envy: “In some ways, Samantha’s clearly better than I am,” she writes. “She’s taller, more diligent, and could beat me in a race without breaking a sweat.”
Burke’s sentiment extends to career choices. “I’m a bit of a cop-out,” she says of her time as a deputy D.A. “I did it for five years. When you start, you give up some of your innocence. There’s rape, murder, child sex offenses . . . the trio of things you don’t want to be thinking about on a daily basis. It eats away at you. I don’t think I would have been the same person if I’d stayed.
“At one point in the series,” Burke continues, “Samantha makes the observation that if you stick in the job long enough, you stop caring—or it really gets to you. She’s not there yet. But when she does get there, she’s going to have to decide what to do. It’s never going to be just another case file to her. She’s never going to stop caring.”