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Let Us Introduce You to...Lisa Black!

Kent Holloway

Managing Editor

As some of you might know, I'm not just a co-owner and managing editor of Charade. I'm also a forensic death investigator. I've been doing death investigations for one medical examiner's office or another since 1995, and yes, I use my experiences in many of my books. Since starting writing and publishing around 2008, I haven't met too many other mystery writers who have real practical experience in forensics. That changed back in June when our senior editor, Britin Haller (who practically knows every mystery author out there, by the way), introduced me to Lisa Black at SleuthFest in Deerfield Beach.

I met a lot of amazing authors at SleuthFest this year, but Lisa and I hit it off and I think a lot of that was due to our shared experiences as both students of forensics and authors. She's been working in the forensics field for about as long as I have, although we have very different specialties. But point is, we had several great conversations, and I knew instantly that I wanted to include her in our author interviews here on Charade. She was gracious enough to accept my invitation, so I'm pleased to present it to you today.

Lisa Black is a New York Times bestselling author of several forensic thrillers. Her most recent series, The Locard Institute series (from Kensington), just released its second book, What Harms You.

So, take a look at Lisa's interview, and if you're so inclined, give her books a try. I believe you'll thank me later!


For those unfamiliar with you and your books, take a little time to tell us about your Locard Institute series.

The Locard Institute is a non-profit facility devoted to equal parts research, training, and private client consultations. It has a team of scientists in all disciplines from DNA to fingerprint analysis to questioned documents who do research in their fields as well as act as professors for 1 or 2 week training sessions for law enforcement and scientific facility staff. The private client work is how Ellie met Rachael in the first book, when a lobbyist hired the Institute because he didn’t trust the FBI to find his kidnapped child.

Who are some characters our readers can expect to meet in your books? Tell us a bit about them.

Dr. Ellie Carr (PhD in forensic science) is a former FBI agent whose favorite duties were on their Evidence Response Team. She is recently divorced, orphaned at 4 and raised by a succession of wonderful aunts and uncles and cousins in her large extended family. Dr. Rachael Carr (Doctor of Forensic Pathology) was the DC medical examiner, who is raising her late sister’s toddler son. Taking on baby Danton caused her husband to walk out on her, but the little boy and the Locard Institute are her twin passions in life.

Now your series are considered Forensic Thrillers and, like my own mysteries, much of what you write, you have firsthand knowledge of. Tell our readers about yourself and your experience in forensics.

I have worked in the field of forensics for going on thirty years. I started in the trace evidence department of the coroner’s office in the Cleveland area, analyzing gunshot residue, paint, glass, hairs, fibers, and clothing. Since then, I’ve been in the forensic unit at a police department in Florida, processing crime scenes and evidence. I am a Certified Latent Print Examiner and Certified Crime Scene Analyst.

A few of my books were initially inspired by real life cases I’ve worked. Have any particular cases of yours sparked inspiration for your own stuff? I realize you might not be able to talk about the cases, but I’m curious how they’ve shaped your writing.

I only have two books that are based on real cases—Evidence of Murder was partly a case I worked in Cleveland and partly a death I was told about by a Florida Medical Examiner Investigator. Then Trail of Blood uses the very real Torso Murders in Cleveland during the Great Depression. But otherwise, my plots are all fiction. What I use from my job is how forensic analysis works in real life, the realistic limitations and possibilities of different analyses. Things are usually not as simple as they are portrayed in film! And often when one character says, as an aside, “I had a case where…”, those little anecdotes are often from my real experience.

Who are some of your favorite authors to read? Who has influenced your own writing?

Alastair MacLean was probably one of my biggest influences as far as characters go, though he didn’t write murder mysteries. Lisa Gardner books taught me a lot about plotting, as well as Jeffery Deaver. And I hope I learned from P.D. James.

As a forensic death investigator, I’ve found that I struggle watching shows like CSI and other super-serious forensic procedurals (same with books) for a variety of reasons. As someone who works in the forensics field, do you struggle with this as well? Are you sensitive about bad forensics, procedures, or general personal interactions with detectives and such at crime scenes in fiction? If so, how?

Oh yes!!! I love Abby and now Kasie on NCIS, but they are the most unrealistic forensic specialists ever. Then it’s a bit of emotional whiplash since in film we can prove anything, have handy databases of every substance from toothpaste to car grease, and our labs are stocked with every piece of scientific equipment known to man. In articles and essays, we’re incompetent, unregulated, biased agents of the prosecution. So yes, you get a bit sensitive to the word ‘forensics’ popping up.

The biggest peeves are: We don’t wear designer clothes and high heels. (And pathologists don’t wear cocktail dresses to do autopsies either BTW.) The aforementioned databases—manufacturers don’t publish the formulas by which they make their living. And if it’s some special boutique formulation of hand cream that’s only sold in a little shop in South Beach, how would it be in your database anyway? We cannot hack into Wal-Mart’s sales receipts to see who bought hand cream last Tuesday. Gunshot residue doesn’t prove someone fired a gun (most labs don’t even test it anymore). We don’t question suspects or tell the detectives who to arrest—that’s the detective’s job. Prosecutors don’t pressure us to give them certain results—they know it won’t work because they can’t affect our jobs and we don’t really like them anyway (always subpoenaing us for inconvenient times and never actually reading our reports). The detectives don’t either, for the same reasons. We can’t zoom in on the video from the 7-Eleven to read the tattoo reflected in the victim’s eyeball—as clear as the shot looks in the 3”x4” window in the manager’s office is as good as it gets, blow it up and it just pixelates. And no, we don’t get DNA results out in an hour.

Finally, if you could offer just one piece of advice for aspiring writers, what would it be?

Read the best authors you can find who write the kind of stuff you want to write.

And don’t give up.


Thank you, Lisa, for spending time answering my questions. For those interested in learning more about Lisa Black, you can check out her website HERE. And if you want to rush over to Amazon and pick up one or two of her books, check out her Amazon Author Page HERE.

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