Q&A: Lisa Black


Any mystery fan has to love an author who announces, “Murder is my day job.” In the case of New York Times bestselling author Lisa Black, it’s fact not fiction. She’s a 20-year veteran of forensic science and currently a latent print examiner and crime scene investigator. She has testified in court cases more than 65 times. So, she spends her days ideally positioned for her imagination to meld fact and fiction into gripping thrillers–the newest of which is Every Kind of Wicked.


In her latest Gardiner and Renner series, the duo is back and working on a case that may change Maggie Gardiner’s life forever. When she walks into the Erie Street Cemetery, where she initially entered the world of her unofficial partner Jack Renner, it’s the first step into a violent, irreversible storm of events. For Maggie, whose profession demands she follow the science, will she be forced to admit that things aren’t always what the facts tell her?


Black is also the author of seven books in the Theresa MacLean forensics series and is published under two other names. Writing as Elizabeth Becka there are two novels in her Evelyn series. Then, as Beth Cheylan, there are three standalone ebook thrillers. Lisa Black’s books have been translated into six languages, and one of her novels has been optioned for film. Her novel Perish was a finalist for the inaugural Sue Grafton Memorial Award presented by Mystery Writers of America. In addition to MWA, she’s a member of Rogue Women Writers, Sisters in Crime, and International Thriller Writers. The author has been selected as a Guest of Honor at 2021 Killer Nashville.


Currents: Congratulations on being chosen as a guest of honor at 2021 Killer Nashville! Tell us about your new novel, Every Kind of Wicked.

Black: In this book my characters battle a group of villains I love to hate: phone scammers. Those people who call all day with a great offer to lower your credit card interest rates or warn you that the IRS has a warrant for your arrest. While investigating the murder of a young student, Jack and his partner Riley stumble on an illegal call center. Meanwhile, Maggie’s ex-husband Rick is still trying to find out exactly who Jack is, while tracking down a pill-pushing physician who doesn’t seem to exist. They both need Maggie’s forensic expertise to proceed, but these two cases collide in a way that will cause a permanent rift in her life.


Currents: You created an interesting and unusual relationship for Gardiner and Renner. Please explain that for readers new to the series.

Black: Jack Renner has an unusual sideline of taking the worst of the worst of the city’s criminals and humanely executing them in order to protect society.This project went quite well until Maggie picked up his trail, presenting him with quite the moral dilemma. But then because of a decision she made in That Darkness, she can’t expose him without exposing herself–so they exist in an uneasy truce, both trying to work for the greater good in their own ways.


Currents: You’ve said that the happiest five years of your life were spent in a morgue. You immediately made a fan of me with that statement. For those new to thrillers and now discovering you, please explain what you meant.

Black: When I first began my career in forensics (after ten years as a personnel secretary) I worked in the Trace Evidence department of the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office in Cleveland, Ohio. I examined a lot of victim’s clothing, tested blood, did DNA analysis as well as hairs, fibers, gunshot residue and blood tests. Every day was a challenge, unpredictable and exhausting, and I loved every minute of it. Strange as it seems I’ve never felt I belonged somewhere like I did there.


Currents: In addition to the unrealistic turnaround on the amount of time needed to process evidence and get lab results, what are some of the biggest misconceptions people have about CSIs?

Black: That you can always find more evidence if you just look harder. That evidence always ‘proves’ something when actually, it rarely does–usually it just indicates. If the victim’s blood is on the suspect’s shirt and he insists he never met her, that’s proof. If he found the body, then that’s completely unsurprising. And the biggest myth has to be that we can identify any substance that exists on the earth, when the truth is we simply do not have databases of every shade of wall paint or nail polish or perfume or motor oil. I can tell you its latex paint…that’s about it. I can’t tell you it’s Glidden Spread Satin in Dusty Rose. Now if you also give me a sample of Dusty Rose and I have pretty sophisticated equipment, I might be able to tell you they’re identical.


Currents: You write about a crime scene investigator–and are one. How much and what kind of research do you usually have to do?

Black: The advantage of working in the field is that I don’t have to research how crime scenes or evidence, or court testimony is handled. But of course, I do have to research fields I’m not familiar with, such as digital forensics or forensic botany or fraud investigation.


Currents: How are your series protagonists Theresa MacLean and Maggie Gardiner different personally and professionally?

Black: They’re very different. Theresa was older with a teenage daughter and a large extended family that kept her grounded and stable. Maggie is much more of a loner, with only one distant brother in the world, and is a bit of a workaholic. This is partly why she has become bonded so tightly with Jack; he’s really the only person with whom she can be completely honest.


Currents: What are you working on now, and what’s next for Maggie Gardiner?

Black: Maggie and Jack are still a team, which is the most important thing to me. But right now, I’m working on a new character, a forensic pathologist with a complicated backstory, who’s going to wind up in the middle of a case with global implications.


To learn more about Lisa Black and her new novel Every Kind of Wicked, go to www.lisa-black.com. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and BookBub.

Riptide      Nothing below the surface is what it seems.