Forensic workplace becomes crime scene in dazzling thriller

Close to the Bone, by Lisa Black. Severn House. 224 pages. Hardcover $28.95.

The seventh title in Ms. Black’s Theresa McLean series of forensic mysteries packs a wallop that will knock you out. Because the pattern of killings reveals a common denominator connecting the victims, we not only have a serial killer on the loose but one whose crimes will bring readers an unusual and fascinating intimacy with the workings of evidence collection and handling. Someone is after Theresa’s colleagues. They have knowledge that he needs, and he will kill to get it. In fact, he has killed to get it. CloseToBoneCover

When Theresa returns to the Medical Examiner’s headquarters late one night, she discovers a blood trail that leads to a dead deskman. Another deskman is missing. The word “Confess,” scribed in blood, is positioned over the corpse.

Don’t feel sorry for me when I claim that this is a difficult book to write about. It is so well-crafted, tightly knit, and intelligently plotted that it is difficult to address its virtues without giving away too much and spoiling it for other readers. However, I will soldier on:

Another victim is soon discovered, leading Theresa to find a link to a yet another murder, this one ten year’s old, of a records secretary. By now it is clear that Theresa’s colleagues are on the killer’s list. How many? When does her number come up?

One thing is becoming clear. People who handle crime evidence – collect it, log it in, examine it, safeguard it, and interpret it – are in big trouble until the killer is apprehended.

What Ms. Black does so very well is take us through all the processes of the evidence journey. It is not the field so glamorously distorted in television drama. We learn about fingerprints, DNA, weapon identification, and changes in analysis and documentation brought about by digital technology. We see the immediate environment: lighting, storage cabinets, gurneys, and the layout of the workplace from deskmen’s desk to the property department to the autopsy suite.

We sense something like moral shadings in the odors of chemicals and decomposition. Throughout, Lisa Black’s descriptive powers are spellbinding. We learn: “The only nightmare-inducing items in the morgue’s basement were the plastic quart containers which looked like take-out soup but which were actually tissue sections of past victims. They would be kept for five years and then destroyed.”

Lisa Black

Lisa Black

Theresa, the ultimate professional, is kept busy processing this unique crime scene and waving away the police who keep leaving their own evidence (fingerprints, etc.) all over, complicating her work.

Just at the right time, the killer is revealed – but he is far from apprehended. With this revelation, it becomes clear how he has such an intimate knowledge of the workplace, its personnel, layout, and procedures. He has been after a particular piece of evidence – a piece of custom diamond jewelry. Why he needs it relates to the ten year old murder case that had been solved via a confession. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the November 20, 2014 Naples Florida Weekly, the November 26 Fort Myers edition, the November 27 Bonita Springs and Punta Gorda/Port Charlotte editions, and the December 4 Palm Beach Gardens/Jupiter editions, click here Florida Weekly – Close to the Bone 1 and here Florida Weekly – Close to the Bone 2

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