Alafair Burke

Samantha Kincaid - 30ish-year-old Deputy District Attorney, Mulnomah County, Oregon
Ellie Hatcher - 30-year-old Rookie Detective, Manhattan's Thirteenth Precinct, NY

"Close Case"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky JUL 15, 2005)

Cops were never happy when their use of force was questioned, but they were especially incensed when the criticism came from prosecutors who billed themselves as the real crime fighters without every dealing with the rough stuff.”

Thirty-two year old Samantha Kincaid, the protagonist of Alafair Burke’s new thriller, Close Case, is the Deputy District Attorney for Multnomah County in Portland, Oregon, as well as the newest member of the Major Crimes Unit. Although Sam loves her job and she is very good at putting bad guys behind bars, she is often conflicted about how to behave in morally ambiguous situations. Close Case throws Sam into plenty of hot water, and she soon gets scalded.

When black investigative reporter Percy Crenshaw is beaten to death outside his condo, Sam is asked to oversee the case. Crenshaw had been driving an S-Class Mercedes Benz just before he was murdered. Was he the victim of a carjacking gone wrong or did the killer have a personal vendetta against him? Another incident that soon drags Samantha down is the case of Delores Tompkins, an unarmed African American mother of two who was fatally shot through the windshield of her car by a Portland patrol officer. Both cases are politically sensitive. Sam’s boss, District Attorney Duncan Griffith, is wary of the fallout from the media and civil rights groups. To make matters worse for Sam, her live-in boyfriend, Detective Chuck Forbes, doesn’t always agree with the way that Sam does her job.

Alafair Burke’s experience as a former deputy district attorney lends authenticity to this gritty and complicated police procedural. She details the tough and demanding lives that district attorneys and cops lead, with the never-ending demands on their time, patience, and energy. Sam is an engaging character, and her desire to follow her instincts and always do the right thing brings her into inevitable conflict with her supervisor and her boyfriend.

The varied characters in the book include a courageous grass-roots activist, Selma Gooding, who knows more than she realizes about Crenshaw’s death, Heidi Hatmaker, a rookie reporter who worked with Percy and would like to find his killer, and Lisa Lopez, an irritating defense attorney who give Samantha heartburn. There are plenty of suspects and red herrings to keep the reader guessing as to whodunit and why. Burke’s easygoing and often droll writing style and her deft characterizations add to the book’s appeal. My one quibble is the ending, which features far too many coincidences to be believed. Overall, however, Close Case is a fast-paced and engrossing thriller, and Burke gives her readers valuable insight into the workings of the criminal justice system. She also demonstrates the difficulty that people of good conscience have when they seek justice in a corrupt world.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 31 reviews


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"Missing Justice"

(reviewed by Kam Aures MAY 15, 2004)

After a month long vacation and a new promotion from the Drug and Vice Division to the Major Crimes Unit, District Attorney Samantha Kincaid is back on duty. Almost as soon as she returns from her trip to Hawaii she gets a call that Clarissa Easterbrook, an administrative law judge, is missing. The judge has only been missing for a short period of time so it is unusual to have the Major Crimes Team involved in the case already but they want "to make sure that the offices looked responsive and concerned when the missing judge showed up and [they want] to triple-check that the investigation was perfect just in case she didn't."

In this case, it turns out that there is foul play involved. Shortly after she is reported missing, the family's dog is found still trailing his leash behind him. Then, one of Clarissa's shoes is discovered in the gutter. It doesn't take much longer before her body is discovered near a construction site in Glenville.

In her investigation to determine who killed Clarissa, Samantha unearths many secrets that the woman tried to bury. Not only do these secrets involve Clarissa's personal life but they also point toward high-level corruption within the city.

Even when the city already has a pretty solid suspect in the case, Samantha works with the defense attorney to uncover clues that may point the case in a different direction. In doing so she ends up putting both her job and her life at risk.

In this second novel of the Samantha Kincaid series, a lot of the characters in the first novel resurface and we are introduced to many new ones. While not a focal point in this novel, Samantha is still in a relationship with her old high school sweetheart Chuck Forbes. Even though she is now working in the same department as him she tries to restrict her work involvement with him. Samantha's ex- husband also plays a larger role in this novel as one of Samantha's opposing attorneys. There seem to be a lot more characters in this novel and in the beginning it is hard to keep them all straight but once you get further in to the novel it is easier to straighten everyone out.

Missing Justice is just as suspenseful, if not more so, as the first novel Judgment Calls. All of the positives that I mentioned with her first novel are just as true with this book. For instance, I had mentioned in the first review that because of her work experience and knowledge of the district attorney job, Burke is able to create "realistic" works of fiction when writing about this subject matter. In the author's note at the end of the book Burke states, "Striking the optimal balance between fact and fiction is a real writing challenge. Readers notice when a defendant gets off on inconceivable grounds or when cops get a warrant with nothing approaching probable cause. And not only do they notice, they feel cheated. On the other hand, too much loyalty to reality makes for dry novels." In my opinion, Burke has successfully achieved the balance that she is
striving for.

The only somewhat negative comment that I had about the first Samantha Kincaid book was that there were certain passages that contained lingo that was hard for the average layperson to comprehend. In Missing Justice there are very, very few instances where this occurs which is a great improvement and makes for an easier read. Burke is a very talented writer and is really able to draw the reader in. I hope that there are more Samantha Kincaid novels in the future.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 25 reviews


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"Judgment Calls"

(Reviewed by Kam Aures JUL 8, 2003)

Samantha Kincaid, a deputy district attorney for Multnomah County, Oregon walks into her office in Portland's Drug and Vice Division one morning to find Police Sergeant Tommy Garcia waiting to present a case to her. The case involves Kendra Martin, a thirteen-year-old prostitute who was assaulted by two men and dumped out in the Columbia Gorge. Kendra survived the attack and is able to identify one of her attackers from mug shot photos as being Frank Derringer. Derringer had recently been paroled on "an attempted sodomy of a fifteen-year-old girl." The initial evidence in the case is scarce because of mistakes made during the original investigation.

Despite the lack of evidence, Samantha decides that fighting the case to the fullest is a worthwhile cause. She determines that she will try to get Derringer charged with attempted murder. Derringer's appointed attorney, Lisa Lopez, will be a tough match for Samantha. Samantha believes that public defenders fall into three categories: low performers, straight shooters, and true believers. "Lisa Lopez was the truest of the true believers." True believers completely trust that their client is telling the truth. "Everyone knows that police sometimes make mistakes, overstep their bounds, and even engage in grossly unethical and illegal acts of misconduct. Yet somehow these relatively rare acts of misconduct happened to transpire in ninety five percent of Lisa Lopez's cases."

As she is preparing for the case, Samantha unearths much more than she had ever bargained for. What once looked like a pretty straightforward attempted murder turns into so much more. Her investigations lead her "to a high-profile death penalty case, a prostitution ring of underage girls, and a possible serial killer."

A secondary storyline explores Samantha's personal life. Chick Forbes, who works on the Major Crimes Team, is helping on the case. Chuck was Samantha's high school boyfriend. The spark that she held for him was reignited when she and her husband at the time had moved back to Portland and Chuck was the officer that testified in her first case as a deputy district attorney. Samantha is now "divorced and long past high school, trying to read his police reports without reminiscing."

Alafair Burke's first novel is an extremely compelling page-turner. Formerly employed as a deputy district attorney, Burke's knowledge and experience of the intricacies of the job shine through. This first hand experience has allowed her to create a very detailed and realistic work of fiction. In some cases though, the knowledge that she possesses makes for passages that may be difficult for the average layman to understand. For example, some of the lingo used by the police officers in the story may take awhile to comprehend. One instance involves Samantha posing a question to a police officer regarding whether a certain girl had been through the system. The police officer's response is "Nothing serious. Couple RJV's, loitering pops. Spent a few nights at juvie, went through LAP a couple of times." For the most part, the details of these offenses will come out in the course of conversation and a general idea can be formed as to what is being referred to. In some cases, however, the reader may be left wondering and confused.

Despite this minor issue, Judgment Calls is a legal thriller that will keep the reader intrigued until the very last page. The constant suspense, abundant plot twists and excellent character development make for a must-read book for all fans of this genre. Burke's second book in the Samantha Kincaid series will be published in spring of 2004 and I am definitely looking forward to reading it.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 37 reviews

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Bibliography: (with links to

Samantha Kincaid series:

Ellie Hatcher series:



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Book Marks:


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About the Author:

Alafair BurkeAlafair Burke is the daughter of acclaimed crime writer James Lee Burke and has been writing mysteries since before most kids could read. Alafair is a graduate of Stanford Law school and formerly had been a deputy district attorney in Portland, Oregon. She now teaches criminal law at Hofstra School of Law and lives on Long Island, New York. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014