Lisa Black

Hostage Thriller By Cape Author

by Philip K. Jason

NOT LONG AGO, I received an advance reader’s edition of a new novel from the William Morrow imprint of HarperCollins. The book is Takeover, by Lisa Black — a name unfamiliar to me. How did the publicist get my name and address? Curious, I reviewed the author’s biography and a light went on. The details about a Cape Coral forensic scientist who formerly worked in Cleveland (the novel’s setting) revealed that Lisa Black was an author whose work I had read (and in one case reviewed), though those two novels were published under the byline of Elizabeth Becka. Well, I had really enjoyed Becka’s work, so why shouldn’t I like Lisa Black’s?

Becka’s Evelyn James character is now Black’s Theresa (‘Tess’) MacLean, and the female protagonist still has a teenage daughter. Cleveland is still Cleveland, and forensic evidence is still intriguing when presented strategically and without the false glamour of the CSI television empire. There are other parallels to this author’s previous work, but there are differences as well. The main difference is in genre and plot, as Takeover is at its center a psychological thriller. While the Becka novels are more focused on evidentiary procedure and the detection of the criminal, Takeover reveals the perpetrators early on and focuses on tightening the noose of suspense through psychological manipulation.

When an employee of the Cleveland branch of the Federal Reserve Bank is found murdered, apparently near his home, and the bank itself is taken over by two gunman, a range of law enforcement agencies have a perplexing case on their hands. Have the gunman mistaken the Federal Reserve for the commercial bank nearby? Do they know that it does not operate to make cash transactions and thus would not have the usual commercial bank cash on hand? Or, do they know what they are doing, having struck this target because of the Fed’s role in the scheduled exchange of worn currency for new currency? Whatever they are up to, they have taken a good-sized number of hostages, mostly bank employees. One of the hostages is Paul Cleary, Tess MacLean’s fiancé, and a Cleveland cop.

Tess is already involved in the case, having processed the initial crime scene of the murdered bank examiner and a car owned by one of the gunman. Now her vested interest in what happens is heightened. When a command post is set up in a public library adjacent to the Federal Reserve building, her cousin Frank Patrick, a veteran police officer and Paul’s partner, makes it possible for Tess to witness the unfolding investigation, including the masterful work of ace hostage negotiator Chris Cavanaugh.

Cavanaugh’s negotiation tactics and the bank robbers’ treatment of the hostages holds the foreground of interest, but when Paul Cleary is seriously injured, Tess is determined to get him out of harm’s way. To do so, she in turn becomes a hostage. How she manages within this situation, how the criminals’ complex motives and plans are determined, and how Tess contributes to the final outcome of this fast-paced drama I will leave to the enjoyment of Black’s readers.

Lisa Black’s handling of setting and characterization make her new book vivid and memorable. Readers can clearly grasp the exterior and interior details of the bank, and these details are important to the action. The minds of the criminals are at once frightening and magnetic. There are hints of an ongoing relationship between Tess and Chris Cavanaugh, and there are suggestions as well that Tess’s daughter, who figures in a minor way in this outing, will be of greater interest in future works.

Black claims that she “spent the happiest five years of her life in a morgue.” This could well be true for someone who spent ten years as a secretary before going back to school and completing a B. A. in Biology from Cleveland State University. As a forensic scientist in the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office, Black “analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes.” About six months after moving to Southwest Florida in the fall of 1999, Black took a job in the Cape Coral Police Department as a latent print examiner.

Regarding her history as an author, Black says, “I’ve written since I was in grade school, the stories just got longer and longer. I wrote my first novel after graduating from college, while I was a secretary. In fact I wrote six mysteries (all unpublished). While working at the coroner’s office [in Cleveland] I didn't have time to write at all, but after I moved to Florida I not only had time, I had the forensics experience to apply.”

In her life as a writer, Black is a member of Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. She is also a frequent speaker at writers’ conferences. As a forensic specialist, she’s a member of the American Academy of Forensic Scientists, the International Association for Identification, the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts and is certified by the American Board of Criminalistics. Black has had over 520 hours of instruction in forensic topics and has testified in court over fifty times.

Find out more infomation about Lisa Black at Lisa-Black.com or elizabethbecka.com. •

from the September-October 2008 issue

Black claims that she "spent the happiest five years of her life in a morgue."