Alafair Burke, daughter of acclaimed crime writer James Lee Burke, came into her own with the Oregon-based Samantha Kincaid legal thrillers. The second novel in her new series to feature NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher is Angel’s Tip (Harper).
Has having a well-established author as a father affected your own career as a novelist?
I think there’s been a lot of upside without much downside. I think his readers were willing to give me a shot, so, yes, that relationship helped me get started. But our writing is so different, even though we’re technically under the same crime fiction umbrella. Anyone who was tempted to draw comparisons between my father’s Dave Robicheaux series and my first book quickly gave up.
Your new protagonist, Ellie Hatcher, is quite different from your first heroine, Samantha Kincaid.
Ellie, for me, was more of a stretch to write because she’s a much more earnest and serious person than I am. She’s a lot more burdened by her past and the needs of her family. There’s just a lot of weight on her. That was intentional—I wanted her to be very different from Samantha. There are writers out there who say they’re writing a second series and then you pick it up and it feels exactly the same, only the lead character is blonde instead of brunette. I didn’t want Ellie to be a blonde Samantha Kincaid. I wanted her to be very distinctive, very recognizable and separate from Samantha, and very much herself.
The locations of your two series reflect your own move to New York City from Portland, Oregon.
Moving to New York made all the difference in my creating this new series with Ellie Hatcher. I love Portland, and it’s always going to be one of my favorite cities, but it was getting to the point where, after I’d moved to New York, I couldn’t write as specifically about Portland any more. I reached a point where I felt I’d been living in New York long enough to write about it with authenticity. And the freedom of writing about New York is that people who’ve never been here have some image of it, and it’s easier for them to imagine than a place like Portland, where they just don’t have any idea of it other than rain.
What’s next for Ellie?
My next book is due out in 2009. I haven’t yet come up with a way to summarize it without giving too much away, but let’s just say that it’s loosely inspired by political events involving New York governors.