A forensic field day in Lisa Black’s Cleveland

“Trail of Blood,” by Lisa Black. William Morrow. 432 pages. $24.99 hardback; $7.99 mass market paperback.

Cape Coral writer Lisa Black has designed a rousing story with two timelines. One story tells of a serial killer operating in Depression-era Cleveland. The killer’s trademark? Beheading the corpse and (sometimes) removing other body parts from the victim’s torso. In today’s Cleveland, two corpses show up. One is a decayed body that turns up in an abandoned building about to be demolished. It seems to be the work of the infamous Torso Killer of the mid-1930s. What’s especially intriguing is that the torso proves to be the remains of a Cleveland policeman. The other body, newly deceased, looks like the work of a copycat – a Torso Killer wannabe.

The narration begins with the present-day perspective, though moving back and forth between forensic scientist Theresa MacLean’s investigations of both crimes. Once the investigations are well underway, the second time line opens up, following policeman James Miller as he investigates a crime at 4950 Pullman – the very place where he is found dead over 75 years later. From this point, Lisa Black develops the timelines in alternating chapters, bringing them closer together while doubling the novel’s suspense and interest.

In this way, the reader discovers two versions of Cleveland, two states of forensic science, and two stages of the railroad industry (an important element in the setting and plot). Ms. Black’s interest in fictional speculation about an actual series of crimes has brought her the challenge of creating, for part of her novel, an effective period piece. She has proven to be more than up to the task.

The killer (killers, actually) had done a fantastic job of covering his tracks. In spite of the title (which ultimately takes on an unexpected meaning), the blood trail is almost nonexistent. One great pleasure of this book, the third in Ms. Black’s Theresa MacLean series, is the detailed yet gripping presentation of the forensic investigation. The author, an experienced forensic professional, knows exactly what is possible and probable in such matters and shuns the spectacular and improbable overreach of those popular forensic-based television shows.

A primary question that Theresa has to solve: how does the killer move his victims from the crime scenes to the locations where they are discovered without being seen? Without leaving a clue? Related questions: What is the meaning of the dismemberments? How, in an act of extreme bravado, does he pull off yet another murder at a scene swarming with police officers who expect it?

To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the August 10, 2011 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the August 11 Naples Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Lisa Black (2). For pdf files, click here Black pdf – 1 and here Black pdf – 2.

For additional reviews of Lisa Black’s work, including her earlier books as Elizabeth Becka, click on the following links:


Ft.Myers magazine – Lisa Black

Florida Weekly – Lisa Black

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