There’s no denying that the Samantha Kincaid novels are feminist, though—at least in the “women can do anything/women can do it all” sense. Kincaid works law enforcement 24/7, sacrificing love life and family relationships in the process; character Jessica Walters, a veteran prosecutor and lesbian mom-to-be, out trash-talks the cops as she tracks gangbangers while eight months pregnant. These characters fit into a sub-genre of women’s detective fiction with a long pedigree that includes Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Dorothy Sayers’ Harriet Vane, Sara Peretsky’s V.I. Warshawski, and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone.
Priscilla Walton and Manina Jones write in their book Detective Agency that women mystery writers use “an established popular formula in order to investigate not just a particular crime but the more general offenses in which the patriarchal power structure of contemporary society itself is potentially incriminated.” Writer Claire McNab puts it this way in the book: “Women who write crime fiction may yet be the ultimate subversives. The shock troops of feminists come and go, the backlash swells, but, ignoring the tumult, nice women sit down to typewriters and word processors and create deception.”
Burke also fits the bill. “From Perry Mason forward,” she says, “the depiction of women lawyers in the workplace is nonexistent—until L.A. Law, when they start to emerge. But they’re stereotypes—sour-faced and serious about work, or bimbos who aren’t serious about anything.”
By contrast, Burke insists that the world Samantha Kincaid inhabits is welcoming to women, at least once you scratch the surface. “Law enforcement has been traditionally male-dominated,” she says. “The veneer might seem sexist—men making offensive jokes, not being very politic. But the actual meat of the prosecutor’s office can be very friendly to women. When you talk to women, their experience is better than at law firms. Look at who become partners—it’s not women.”
Even though she’s given her character a fair dose of testosterone, Burke herself shies away from law enforcement’s most popular accessory. “Dad took me out once to teach me how to shoot,” she recalls. “What I had in mind was the FBI on TV—sterile and safe. Where he took me was this vacant land in Montana with a bunch of guys shooting guns. I’m a little bit afraid of guns. I see them and it makes me nervous.”