Friday, May 6, 2011

Alafair Burke Lifts The Curtain In 212

212 by Alafair BurkeAs a former deputy district attorney in Portland, Oregon, professor of law, and legal commenter, it is no surprise that Alafair Burke can convey authentic dialogue between detectives and prosecutors working on a case. She lived it. She lives it. And she has always had a deep fascination with crime.

Enough so that there is a considerable amount of Burke in the fictional NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher. Burke has said as much. Her husband once mused that only she could take the story of how they met and turn it into a crime novel.

That crime novel, Hatcher's debut, was Dead Connection. It was also Burke's first departure from her Samantha Kincaid series. Since then, Hatcher proved interesting enough to warrant more than a single installment. She has earned her own series, built partly upon Burke's experiences growing up in Wichita, Kansas, and living in New York City.

212 is a near-personal expose into the life of a female detective.

Although 212 is the third book featuring Ellie Hatcher, it is self-contained enough to stand alone. It opens with a homicide at the prestigious address of 212. Hatcher and her senior partner, J.J. Rogan, are tapped to solve it.

Even when 212 introduces New York University sophomore Megan Gunther, there is no mystery. Her roommate was a witness to the 212 murder, even though Gunther doesn't know it. All she knows is that someone has posted her complete schedule to a campus gossip site. They also left a warning. She is being watched.

It's all laid out nicely. Yet, if you expect those graphs to summarize the story, you would be wrong.

212 paperbackEven after Gunther is murdered during an attack on her roommate, neither Hatcher nor partner Rogan immediately connect the dots. Nothing about the cases seem similar. Not even the modus operandi.

The pattern develops only when the detectives follow several clues based on nothing more than Gunther's phone records. Apparently Gunther made the mistake of choosing a Craig's List roommate who also works as a prostitute for an escort service.

And it is this foundation, along with the author's adept ability at leading readers toward the same dead ends, that shines. There are times in the novel that you can almost hear that the fictional stories are drawn from composites of real life. It's the stuff Burke knows as a prosecutor who earned an undergraduate degree in psychology.

Although it sometimes reads as a police procedural, the book also delves deep into the subject of trust and misplaced trust. It not only considers the broken trust of women who enter the illicit and illegal profession, but also the trust between husbands and wives, fathers and sons, employees and employers, detectives and prosecutors, judges and criminals. Maybe the people we think we know aren't who they seem to be.

Lifting the curtain on Alafair Burke.

While anyone can read her accomplished biography, which cites the legendary writer James Lee Burke as her father, it's even more interesting to consider the heavy influence of Alafair Burke on Ellie Hatcher. Her frustration with the legal system, her views on detached reporters, and the choices people make all ring as true perspectives.

Alafair BurkeBut more than that, Burke imbues Hatcher with a hint of romanticism. Even when people are at their worst, Hatcher believes they are good and that love can overcome. It comes across in several places, despite Burke being more comfortable writing case-centric dialogue in such detail it sometimes goes on too long as opposed to more familiar and personal conversations.

The same can be said for other female characters. They are career-minded and relationship stunted. And sometimes it comes across in awkward decisions, observations, and self-reflection. It's almost as if they have so little time to connect with people that they idealize love during those rare moments when they do.

212 by Alafair Burke Catches A 3.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

Published last year, 212 is due to be out soon in paperback (Look for City of Lies in the U.K.). Although it is a crime novel, the book isn't very physical. Burke invests much more time into the thinking aspects of the mystery-thriller genre, making the reader like a fly on the wall, one with ESP from time to time. Her new book, Long Gone, is also in the market.

212: A Novel (Ellie Hatcher) by Alafair Burke is available on Amazon and the book can be found at Barnes & Noble. You can also find 212 as an audiobook on iTunes. It is narrated by Eliza Foss, who also read the second Ellie Hatcher book, Angel's Tip. While Foss fits Hatcher, she tends to make some of the female characters weaker than the words suggest they might be. She also struggles with male characters.
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