Burke was born August 1, 1953, in Houston, Texas, but has lived in Southern California most of her life. She comes from a close-knit family, and remains close to her parents, two sisters and a brother. Burke's husband is musician Tim Burke, whose bands include Downtight. She attended California State University, Long Beach, and graduated with a degree in history.
She worked as a researcher on an oral history project interviewing "Rosie the Riveters." Later she became the manager of a manufacturing plant for a large corporation.
She completed her first novel, Goodnight, Irene, in the evenings after work. It was sold unagented and unsolicited to Simon & Schuster. She received a surprising boost from a new fan when, during his first White House interview after taking office, President Bill Clinton said he was reading Goodnight, Irene.
Irene Kelly Mysteries:
- Goodnight, Irene (1993)
- Sweet Dreams, Irene (1994)
- Dear Irene (1995)
- Remember Me, Irene (1996)
- Hocus (1997)
- Liar (1998)
- Bones (2000)
- Flight (2001) (from the POV of Frank Harriman)
- Bloodlines (2005)
- Kidnapped (2006)
- Disturbance (2011)
- Nine (2002)
- 18 (2003) collection of short stories
- The Messenger (2009)
Burke edited the first edition of Breaking and Entering, a Sisters in Crime's guide to getting published. She served as an Associate Editor on Writing Mysteries: A Handbook by the Mystery Writers of America, edited by Sue Grafton. She is a longtime member of Sisters in Crime and has served on the national boards of Mystery Writers of America and the American Crime Writers League.
Burke is the founder and director of the Crime Lab Project, an organization working to raise awareness of the problems facing crime labs and the need to obtain better funding for forensic science. She is a past president of the Southern California Chapter of Mystery Writers of America (MWA) and has served on MWA's National Board.
Burke's collection of short stories, Bloodlines, appears in the television series Bones: Season 1, Ep. 17 - The Skull in the Desert. It is used as a prop on a table at minute 15:05.
Awards and nominations
- 1999 Best Novel Bones.
Edgar nomination 
- 2001 Best Short Story The Abbey Ghosts
- 2001 Best Short Story The Man in the Civil Suit
Agatha Nominations 
- 1997 Best Novel - Hocus
- 1998 Best Novel - Liar
- 2002 Best Short Story Devotion
- 2002 Best Non-fiction, Writing Mysteries (Sue Grafton and Barry Zeman)
- 1995 Best Short Story Unharmed
- Best Mystery Short Story: "The Abbey Ghosts"
Macavity nominations 
- 1998 Best Novel Liar
- 1997 Best Novel Hocus
- 2003 Best Mystery Novel Nine
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Reader's Award.
Romantic Times's Career Achievement Award for Contemporary Suspense
Anthony Award nominations
- 1994 Best First Novel Goodnight, Irene
- 1999 Best Short Story Two Bits
- 2002 Best Novel Flight
- 2000 Best Novel Bones
- 2006 Best Novel Bloodlines
Barry Nominations 
- 2006 Best Novel, Bloodlines
- 1998 Best Novel Hocus
- page 33, Great Women Mystery Writers, 2nd Ed. by Elizabeth Blakesley Lindsay, 2007, publ. Greenwood Press, ISBN 0-313-33428-5
- "Down Tight". Down Tight. Retrieved 2012-02-21.
- "Inside The Cover Book Reviews". Mysteryreaders.com. Retrieved 2006-08-24.
- "Jan Burke, interviewed by T. Jefferson Parker". Absolutewrite.com. Archived from the original on 2006-08-24. Retrieved 2006-08-24.
- "Edgar Award Winners and Nominees". ThrillingDetective.com. Retrieved 2006-08-30.
- "Past Award Winners & Nominees". Malice Domestic Ltd. Archived from the original on 2006-08-10. Retrieved 2006-08-24.
- "Macavity Award Winners & Nominees". Mystery Readers Interlational. Retrieved 2006-08-24.
- "The Barry Awards". DeadlyPleasures.com. Archived from the original on 2006-08-20. Retrieved 2006-08-30.