Alafair Burke is a talented novelist, which means that she is willing to take some risks with her novels. While she has written several series, one featuring a deputy district attorney (Samantha Kincaid) set in Portland, Oregon, the other starring an offbeat NYPD detective (Ellie Hatcher), Ms. Burke isn’t afraid to produce standalone mysteries. As a result, Alafair Burke is really adept at character development.
If You Were Here, Ms. Burke’s latest novel, requires a great amount of development of her lead character, former deputy prosecutor-turned-journalist, McKenna Wright, and in a hurry. That’s because the novel’s focus is almost exclusively on McKenna, with the rest of the cast remaining two-dimensional for a lot of the story.
I’ll confess that it took me a while to get into this novel, which is unlike my experience with all of her previous books. I was also a bit uncomfortable with her portrayal of many pre- 2001 West Point (as in the United States Military Academy) graduates actively seeking ways to avoid being recalled to active duty for deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. I’m sure that Ms. Burke’s characterization must be fairly accurate, as her husband is a West Point grad of that era, but it sure didn’t portray that group in a very positive light. (My own military experience most certainly framed my reaction, so I decided not to let that get in the way of the story.)
Once I had gotten through a quarter of If You Were Here, the story quickly picked up momentum and plausibility. Alafair Burke excels at braiding seemingly-unrelated plot lines into a beautiful cord, and this novel was no exception. Toward the final third of the book, shadowy characters began emerging in sharper detail, making the final chapters into a perfect, believable mosaic…if a mosaic can be called “believable”.
As a result, I highly recommend If You Were Here. It is entertaining, well-written, and would serve as a good launching pad for another excellent series, should Alafair Burke be so inclined. (I hope she is!)