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burke image Life Imitating Art Imitating Life Imitating. . .

Alafair Burke ’91 learned the ropes as a prosecutor in Portland, and has created a series of popular mystery novels replete with tough women lawyers, corrupt cops, sociopathic socialites, plus plenty of gunfire to go around.

By Mitchell Hartman
Photography by Amy Whitehouse


There is a moment in Alafair Burke’s first novel, Judgment Calls, when you just know her main character—the idealistic and independent-minded young deputy district attorney, Samantha Kincaid— is headed for a fall.

After Kincaid is ordered off a case—involving the brutal rape of a child prostitute from the mean streets of East Portland—she goes right back out to stalk the perps again, certain they’re guilty well beyond a reasonable doubt. The rest of the novel unveils just how right Kincaid is to buck her superiors and trust her gut, as evidence emerges that the chauvinistic supervising prosecutor who told her to drop the case may be a predator bent on shielding the criminals to save his own skin.

Kincaid’s loose-cannon D.A. act kicks up a storm of trouble, including disgrace among her coworkers, an ill-fated fling with her former high school sweetheart (now a Portland detective working on the case), and a gunfight that she barely escapes alive.

Whether redemption follows Kincaid’s fall from professional grace is best left to the reader to discover.

It is less difficult to discern that Kincaid’s creator is doing just fine. Since Alafair Burke emerged on the mystery-writing scene with Judgment Calls in 2003, she has put out two more Samantha Kincaid novels (Missing Justice and Close Case) in quick succession with Henry Holt and Company, a major New York publishing house. All three are now out in paperback, and sales are steadily rising, according to Burke’s agent, Philip Spitzer. A fourth police procedural, this one set in New York City, where Burke now lives, will be published next year.

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