Sunday, April 7, 2013

Lisa Black - Fascinating Forensics

When Lisa Black graduated from John Carroll University with a political science degree, she never expected to wind up working in a morgue or becoming a bestselling author. But that’s exactly what fate had in store for this Cape Coral writer.
According to Black, “I didn’t think out my decision to major in political science.  I loved DC, and it just seemed like a good idea at the time.”  But after spending ten years working as a secretary, Black decided to go back to school to pursue a Bachelor’s degree in biology. She was subsequently hired as a forensic scientist for the coroner’s office in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, where she spent what she describes as “the happiest five years of my life” analyzing gunshot residue, DNA, fibers, blood and other forms of trace evidence on murder victims.  Then, 13 years ago, Black’s husband “got fed up with driving in Cleveland snow,” and the couple relocated to Florida, leaving family and friends behind. Black decided to take up writing to help get over her homesickness. After several tries, she landed a publisher for a mystery novel. Trace Evidence was published in 2005 under her real name, Elizabeth Becka.  A second novel, Unknown Means, followed in 2008.

After a change of publishers, Black began writing under a pseudonym. Takeover, published in 2008, introduces Theresa MacLean, a forensic scientist for the city of Cleveland. Black admits that she shares several traits with her protagonist. “Theresa MacLean is basically me, just a stronger, faster, smarter version. She isn’t a cop, so she uses inanimate clues to help solve mysteries.”  MacLean’s exploits continue in Evidence of Murder, a suspense novel based on one of Black’s real-life cases. In it, MacLean searches for clues to prove that a young woman’s apparent suicide actually involved foul play.  Publishers Weekly praised the book as a “fast-paced thriller…with a rip-roaring ending.”

The next novel in the MacLean series, Trail of Blood, is a fiction/true crime hybrid based on Cleveland’s infamous “Torso Killer,” a serial murderer who terrorized the city in the 1930s by decapitating and dismembering his victims. He was never caught. Trail of Blood has MacLean investigating the discoveries of the desiccated body of a long-dead police detective and a newly-murdered woman, both showing eerie similarities to the Torso Killer’s victims. Black moves seamlessly from past to present, merging two investigations into one page-turning thrill ride. Defensive Wounds, published in 2011, pits MacLean against a serial killer who targets defense attorneys.
Although she has a full-time job as a latent fingerprint analyst for the Cape Coral police department, Black has managed to finish her fifth MacLean novel. Blunt Impact, which hit bookstores on April 1, has MacLean investigating a series of murders surrounding the construction of a Cleveland skyscraper. The first to die is Samantha, a young, sexy concrete worker who is thrown from the 23rd floor. The only witness is her 11-year-old daughter Anna, nicknamed Ghost. Ghost will stop at nothing to find her mom's killer, and MacLean will stop at nothing to keep Ghost safe. Black has also entered the world of e-publishing with a Kindle e-book, The Prague Project, written under the name Beth Cheylan. In this stand-alone novel, a death in West Virginia sends FBI agent Ellie Gardner and NYPD counterterrorism lieutenant Michael Stewart on a chase across Europe as they track stolen nukes and lost Nazi gold, hoping to avert the deaths of millions of people.

Black describes her novels as “forensic suspense, a combination of police procedural and amateur sleuth.” She pulls from her personal experiences to give readers a feel for how forensics works in the real world. “I’d like them to know that it’s not always the pretty version you see on TV,” she explains.  “You don’t have to be young, single, sexy and angst-ridden to do a good job.”

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