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Chemistry is king in an explosive forensic thriller


“The Price of Innocence,” by Lisa Black. Severn House.  240 pages.  $28.95.

This sixth entry in Ms. Black’s Teresa MacLean Mystery series, is one of the best. The author sets the excitement bar high with a risky beginning. Just as Teresa, Cleveland forensic specialist, finishes her note-taking at the site of an apparent suicide, the building explodes! That’s starting a novel off with a bang. Can the thrill thermometer be kept in the high (danger) range? Somehow, Lisa Black manages to do just that.

The Bingham is an older building recently repurposed for lavish downtown apartments. However, the economic downturn has left it with many vacancies. There are also some unusual tenants on the ground and basement levels. One of these is the Medical Examiner’s Office, for which Teresa works. Now, “the relevant items from every homicide . . . had been buried, at best, or disintegrated at worst.” Was this explosion a purposeful act aimed at destroying evidence and records?

A peculiar chemical odor, also experienced during Teresa’s investigation of other crimes, suggests the nature of the explosive, eventually linking it to chemicals also used in meth labs.

The next day, Teresa is sent to investigate a likely suicide in a mansion on the edge of Lake Erie. A uniformed policeman is also assigned to the case. They discuss the Bingham building investigation and the proximity of the explosion to the office/laboratory of a wealthy entrepreneur-inventor named Lambert. Then Teresa pursues her inspection and evidence collection and Officer Davis goes outside. Suddenly she hears loud noises and finds a lifeless Davis on the ground – shot twice.

Events, violent and otherwise, continue to pile up, and unexpected connections among those involved lead back twenty-five years to a fire – possibly a crime – at a Cleveland State University student housing facility.

Lisa Black

Lisa Black

At the police officer’s funeral, Teresa meets the handsome accountant David Madison, a man recently disgraced by his wife’s sexual liaison with a teenaged student. David is at first a sympathetic character. His romantic overtures toward Teresa are successful, even though she remains on guard, wondering about his connection with the murdered policeman.

More and more threats and murders seem connected to a Cleveland State group of friends a generation back.  But where is the hard evidence? Teresa doggedly pursues it, though there are many distractions and false trails. Some of these are the inevitable stuff of crime solving; some result from the intentional misdirection of Teresa’s efforts by others. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the February 5, 2014 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the February 6 Bonita Springs and Naples editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Black’s Innocence 1 and here: Florida Weekly – Black’s Innocence 2

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