First generation: James Lee Burke has been writing fiction for 50 years and was named an MWA Grand Master in 2009. He’s best known for his series about New Iberia, La., deputy sheriff Dave Robicheaux, which began with 1987’s The Neon Rain (Holt).
Second generation: Alafair Burke, an attorney and professor of law, is the author of several books, including two crime series: one about Samantha Kincaid, a Portland, Ore., deputy district attorney, and the other about NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher. Her next stand-alone thriller, The Ex, will pub February 2016 (Harper).
Collaboration: None to date, but Alafair and Mary Higgins Clark coauthor the Under Suspicion series (Simon & Schuster), which began with 2014’s The Cinderella Murder and continues with All Dressed in White (Simon & Schuster), released earlier this month.
James Lee Burke says his daughter Alafair showed an early, even precocious, interest in reading and writing: “Alafair was reading Cool Hand Luke [Donn Pearce’s 1965 novel] when she was five years old,” he says. “She wrote her first stories in the first grade.”
Alafair tempers that memory somewhat, recalling other ambitions: “When I was very little, I said I wanted to be either a writer, a hairdresser, or one of those eavesdropping telephone operators I’d see in old movies.”
Instead, after graduating from Reed College in Portland, Ore., she went to Stanford Law School in California, and in 1995 she was appointed assistant district attorney in Portland, where her twin duties as a prosecutor and a police department liaison gave her the experience that has informed her crime fiction, beginning with 2003’s Judgment Calls (Orion).
James has high praise for his daughter’s work, echoing novelist and playwright Irwin Shaw’s observation that a professional is someone who makes a hard job look easy: “That’s what Alafair does in her writing.”
Alafair, in turn, notes that she and her father, while “incredibly close,” have “very different personalities.”
“I’ve never lived in the places he writes about [Louisiana, Texas, Montana)], and I imagine he’d go insane if he lived in the cities where I set my work [Portland, New York City],” she says.“He came to fiction as a poet. [James met Alafair’s mother in a graduate seminar in romantic poetry.] I started because of a deep interest in the criminal justice system. Whenever I find myself using more than a few words describing the sky or a tree, I hit the Delete key. I don’t want to invite that comparison.”