Tag Archives: forensic thriller

New crime thriller offers a dead senator, dirty election politics, and pending environmental disaster

Let Justice Descend, by Lisa Black. Kensington Books. 320 pages. Hardcover $26.00.

Cape Coral resident Lisa Black’s fifth Gardiner and Renner novel only leaves one waiting for the next one. You can’t have too much of a good thing. Do you like mystery plots to start off with a bang? Well, here goes. It’s election time in Ohio and U. S. Senator Diane Cragin has been busy campaigning for re-election, doing whatever else she can to influence the power brokers and the voters. With three days to go, she is about to enter her home when she steps on a device designed to electrocute her. And it works perfectly.

Senator Cragin has plenty of enemies, but could it be that the person running against her would have the most incentive to get her out of the way? Now her party has to choose a substitute candidate immediately. Hmm, a self-created opening for a prepared opportunist? 

Cragin’s chief of staff, the estimable Kelly Henessey, shows the proper degree of sadness at the loss of her mentor, but she seems even more worried about possibly being out of a job. Henessey is a great minor character, with all kinds of psychological quirks.

The investigating team includes not only Maggie Gardiner as crime scene investigator (CSI), but also someone from the medical examiner’s office and two police force detectives. The latter are partners Tom Riley and Jack Renner – whose penchant for vigilante justice is like a chain around Maggie’s neck. She knows about his propensities, and her own career is likely to blow up if anyone finds out what she is hiding from the department. Otherwise, Jack is a darn good detective.

Another motive for knocking off the senator is what’s discovered in her safe: a huge fortune in cash. Was Cragin planning a lavish retirement? How did she accumulate this money? Who knew about it?

Readers soon learn that the senator may have been instrumental, and was no doubt at least an influential force, in a highly competitive game underway in the city: repurposing out of use properties in downtown areas. Author Black gives us a close-up view of the wars that go on among speculative investors, government regulators, and political grifters. Exploring these forces at work leads Black to populate her scenes with well -drawn secondary characters.

These include Joe Green – a powerful, seasoned administrator and politician about to become the Democratic candidate running for the senate position and David Carlyle – a young, dedicated EPA inspector in charge of overseeing plans for a water intake facility (crib) on Lake Erie. In addition, there is investigative reporter Lori Russo, who is not only on top of the political shenanigans in Cleveland, but has also been sniffing for any information about the vigilante murders (Jack Renner’s crimes). She knows that police officer Rick Gardiner, Maggie’s ex, is working on that case. . . .

To read the full review, as well as an interview with the author (photo at left), click on Florida Weekly – Let Justice Descend  The review appears in the October 30, 2019 Fort Myers Florida Weekly; the October 31 Bonita Springs, Palm Beach, and Venice editions; and the November 7 Naples and Charlotte County editions. The interview is on the following page in the Fort Myers edition, after the review.

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A series of grotesque murders ravages an institution for juvenile delinquents

Suffer the Children, by Lisa Black. Kensington Books. 320 pages. Hardcover $26.00.

This latest addition to the Gardiner and Renner Thriller series finds the skilled and dedicated forensics specialist Maggie Gardiner in a highly claustrophobic, menacing situation. She and her Cleveland police force colleagues – Jack Renner and his partner, Riley – visit an advanced multi-purpose institution to investigate what turns out to be the first in a series of murders. 

The Firebird Center for Children and Adolescents is a state-of-the-art juvenile detention center, part school and part prison. The inmate-pupils are grouped by age, by learning skills, and by social redeemability. Most, but not all, are victims of abuse, and too many are capable of abusive behavior. Few will ever be normal, but they might be able to stay out of trouble and lead productive lives. In some, sharp intelligence is warped toward brutal psychotic behavior. These are high-risk kids, to put it mildly.

They have psychological switches that go on and off, affecting behavior in unpredictable ways. They are master manipulators who can act normal.

They live in a controlled environment run by security personnel, therapists, and educators with special training. The institution’s leaders are constrained by delicate legal issues and marginal budgets.

Lisa Black, photo by Susan M. Klingbeil

Maggie’s task – discerning, collecting, and interpreting forensic evidence – is one center of interest. The other is how well Ms. Black uses Maggie’s reactions as a lens to enlighten readers about the nature of Firebird, including the personalities of individual children and staffers. Seeing what goes on there, even short of murder, is a harrowing experience. The admirable motives and skills of the professionals seem buried under a cloud. The inmates and the jailors share a no-win situation, and Lisa Black shows us why.

Are various children killing one another? Is a junior mastermind serial killer committing these horrendous crimes? If so, who is it? How are the victims chosen? Where will the evidence point? What will the motive be? Is it anything beyond blind, ungovernable aggression? . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the October 10, 2018 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the October 11 Naples and  Bonita Springs editions, and the October 18 Charlotte County edition, click here: Florida WeeklySuffer the Children

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A trio of gruesome murders raises questions about Wall Street shenanigans

Perish, by Lisa Black. Kensington. 320 pages. Hardcover $26.00.

This is Ms. Black’s third Gardiner and Renner novel, and there are some signs that it might be the last. I hope not. These thrillers are so reliably macabre, so brimming with fascinating forensic detail, and so well-crafted that I’d hate to see this odd couple break up. This one begins with a bang and never lets up.

Cleveland forensic expert Maggie Gardiner has never seen a body so decimated. The gorgeous leader of the Sterling Financial operation has been pretty much shredded. Although blood is all around, the clever killer has left no trace of his (or her) entrance or exit. Nothing has been stolen. Nothing revealing has been left behind. The kind of forensic evidence that is Maggie’s bread and butter just isn’t there. No break-in. No furniture tossing. The most curious item is a suspicious statement, in plain view, of a $600,000,000 Panamanian account in Joanna’s name.

Lisa Black

How did this young woman put together such a fortune? Did she make enemies in the process?

Secretive Joanna Moorehouse’s lacerated throat seems a gruesome icon of the cutthroat world in which she has become a major player. Who would want her dead? Those who lost their homes by being conned into taking out unaffordable mortgages? Or who had supposed fixed-rate loans turned into adjustable ones? Perhaps. How about her business rivals? Or maybe members of the firm who might ascend to the throne? Did she dump her boy-toy?

Working with the police team of Jack Renner and Tom Riley, Maggie needs to find the answer. Sorting through the possible suspects connected with Sterling Financial means sorting through the intricacies of their work practices. To open readers to this world, which echoes the situation leading to the 2008 financial collapse, Ms. Black gives us an amazingly readable lesson in the shoddy business of bundled mortgage derivatives and related financial chicanery. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 25, 2018  Naples and Palm Beach editions of Florida Weekly, click here:  Florida Weekly – Perish

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Imperiled newspaper industry sets the stage for desperation and doom

Unpunished, by Lisa Black. Kensington Books. 320 pages. Hardcover $25.00.

This is the second title in Ms. Black’s Gardiner and Renner Thriller series, following That Darkness. It is a fascinating tale of serial killings linked by their setting: a large (but shrinking) Cleveland newspaper. Like all of Ms. Black’s novels, it is loaded with engaging forensic analysis. When the copy editor of the “Cleveland Herald” is found hanging above the print area assembly line, investigator Maggie Gardener quickly concludes that what looks at first like a suicide is certainly a murder. unpunished

It is the first of four, linked for the most part by crime scene and method. Strangulation precedes the pretense of a hanging. The victims are connected to the newspaper, and the newspaper is in trouble with or without them. Is someone trying to destroy the newspaper, or destroy those responsible for its likely demise? Is the perpetrator a stranger or an insider? The murders suggest that the killer has easy access and familiarity with work routines.

Unpunished offers three centers of interest. Primary is Maggie’s pursuit of forensic evidence leading to a suspect. Next is the detailed presentation of the newspaper industry’s seemingly irreversible decline, caused by a complex, toxic mixture of cultural and technological change. And finally, we have Jack Renner – a vigilante killer who is also an officer on the Cleveland police force.

Maggie knows Jack’s hidden history, and the reader knows that Jack has assassinated a teenage psychopathic killer who knew how to beat the system. What the system can’t handle, Jack Renner will take on. Maggie has an odd respect for Jack’s sense of justice, and he has a hold on Maggie that keeps her silent about his doings.

Lisa Black

Lisa Black

Seems as if the newspaper is up for sale. Only a large influx of money can save it – or at least postpone the inevitable. Those who are in the know are frantically working to secure some benefit from the coming changes. One is doing disguised insider trading, buying stock shares like crazy, assuming the takeover will foster a spike – a profit that will ensure his survival after the inevitable crash.

Another is falsifying circulation numbers to keep the purchase price of the newspaper up and to make sure a deal goes through.

Soon, however, the new owners will insist on shrinking the staff. Which jobs are at stake? Where can one go when the whole industry is collapsing? . . .

To read the full review, as it appears in the January 25, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 26 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Unpunished

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