Hofstra Law Professor Alafair Burke’s 11th crime novel will hit bookstore shelves on Tuesday, Nov. 18. The Cinderella Murder, which she co-wrote with “Queen of Suspense” Mary Higgins Clark — Burke’s first collaboration on a book — has already received praise from Booklist, Kirkus Review and Barnes & Noble, which called the collaboration “a dynamic new author duo.”
Professor Burke, who teaches criminal law and procedure at Hofstra’s Maurice A. Deane School of Law, and Higgins Clark will be at the Huntington Book Revue on Monday, Nov. 24, at 7 p.m. to speak about and sign their new novel.
We had the opportunity to speak with Professor Burke about her recent collaboration and her road to becoming a best-selling crime novelist:
This is your 11th novel, but the first one you’ve co-authored. What was it like collaborating with fellow bestselling author Mary Higgins Clark?
I knew I would learn a lot working with Mary, but I was continually amazed at her storytelling process and prowess. She has a natural ability to dig into characters, discover their secrets, and weave them together into a compelling thriller. She has earned the title “Queen of Suspense,” and working with her was like attending a year-long master class.
How was the process different compared with previous books you’ve written?
I’d previously co-authored a short law review article with my friend, Bruce Green, at Fordham Law School. And my colleague at the law school, Joanna Grossman, and I have talked about various projects together. But I had never co-authored a novel before. When I write my own books, I start when I have a setting and a character that I find compelling, and then I spend a year finding my way through a plot. It’s a ridiculous way to write a book, but it’s the only process I’ve ever known. But of course when you’re working with another person, you can’t just let the story evolve only in your head. We had to do considerably more advance planning, and to do it with a person who is so hardworking and talented was a true pleasure.
Were you a fan of Mary Higgins Clark before you started writing?
Of course. I’ve always been a huge reader of crime fiction, and I don’t think there’s any fan of the genre who doesn’t appreciate Mary Higgins Clark. She broke new ground in the genre with Where Are the Children? — about a woman accused of killing her own children. She wrote that book about 40 years ago, and it still sets a standard for both suspense and psychological thrillers. I think I also had a special respect for her, given that my own father is also a writer. I’ve seen firsthand how hard a writer has to work to have a career that spans four decades.
As the daughter of a librarian (mom, Pearl) and a best-selling author (dad, James Lee Burke), books were always an integral part of your life. At what age did you know you wanted to become a novelist?
I was always a reader, but never thought I’d be a writer. It wasn’t until I was a law professor that I published my first novel, Judgment Calls, about a prosecutor who chooses to believe a sex crime victim, even though she is a teenage prostitute. I saw that novel as a way to explore through fiction the importance of prosecutorial discretion in the criminal justice system, and also show the way that victims can be mistreated in the prosecution process. I never imagined that I would continue to use fiction all these years later as a way to explore legal issues, but it works for me.
Do your roles as Hofstra law professor and bestselling author complement each other?
When my eyes start to blur from writing footnotes for my latest law review article, I’ll switch files and imagine a scene for my latest novel. If I hit a wall there, I go back to my law review articles. And the classroom teaching animates both. I’m always surprised how a discussion with my students about the law can spark new ideas.
What’s next on the docket for you?
I am about to go to South Carolina and then to Seattle to talk to prosecutors about the ways that prosecutorial discretion can contribute to wrongful convictions. I’m finishing up an article about the lawfulness of consent searches. And I’m working on my next novel.
What advice would you offer your students about succeeding in their careers?
The real world wants people who are more than just good students. You need to be smart, but you also need to be reliable, trustworthy and mature. I call it the “TCB” factor: Can you take care of business? Don’t be passive. Prove yourself useful, and good things will happen.