2009-09-03

'Evidence of Murder'

By Lisa Black (William Morrow. $24.99)
REVIEWED BY PHILIP K. JASON Special to Florida Weekly

With "Evidence of Murder," Cape Coral author Lisa Black leaps to the forefront of contemporary mystery novelists. Her protagonist, Cleveland forensic specialist Theresa MacLean, introduced in last year's "Takeover," is a new star in the firmament of crime solvers.

When Ms. MacLean's cousin, Detective Frank Patrick, asks her to help him investigate what seems to be a missing persons case, Ms. MacLean complains that she has "a building full of dead people" to examine. Soon enough, however, the missing Jillian Perry turns up dead. Though preliminary findings suggest suicide, other factors cast suspicion on that hypothesis.

Two other deaths, apparently murders, have circumstantial similarities that suggest a serial criminal may be at large. Those who knew Ms. Perry don't see anything in her character or situation — a generally cheerful young woman who is newly married and notas newly a mother — to support the idea of suicide. And something about the behavior of her husband, electronic games entrepreneur Evan Kovacic, disturbs Ms. MacLean mightily.

Back in the laboratory, the usual procedures do not uncover a clear cause of death. Without it, the case for murder is simply not there. Still, Ms. MacLean suspects foul play, and when a former boyfriend of Ms. Perry's claims that Mr. Kovacic murdered his wife and is a threat to murder the baby girl, Ms. MacLean intensifies her investigation, bending rules and protocols along the way.

Though the exboyfriend, Drew Fleming, at first seems only gentle and caring, it becomes clear that he is obsessed and unstable. To some, he is a more likely suspect than Mr. Kovacic. After Mr. Fleming files a lawsuit for custody of the baby, Cara, he becomes more and more unhinged. Though Mr. Kovacic is not the father of the girl, neither is Mr. Fleming. So what's going on? Mr. Fleming claims that he wants to protect Cara from Mr. Kovacic, who has reason to murder her. Who has more means, motive and opportunity? What is the "Evidence of Murder" and where can it be found?

Discovering a possible financial motive on Mr. Kovacic's part, Ms. MacLean pursues the evidence that will establish that Ms. Perry was a murder victim and tie Mr. Kovacic to the deed. Mr. Fleming's position makes more sense when it is learned that baby Cara inherited a huge amount from her maternal grandparents, and with Ms. Perry — and then perhaps Cara herself — out of the way, Mr. Kovacic will have the funds he desperately needs to pay his bills until version 2 of his hot video game comes to market.

There are lots of twists and turns along the way as Ms. MacLean takes high-risk actions to dig for more evidence, challenge the haughty and threatening Mr. Kovacic, manage the possibly psychotic Mr. Fleming, and battle with her own colleagues and superiors who are sure she is going off the deep end. And, like all mothers of teenage daughters, Theresa MacLean has battles to fight on that front as well.

Readers are taken into the intricacies of two worlds: the forensic lab and the sophisticated video game. The kind of planning that a video game author must be able to do, anticipating every possible move and providing a response to it, is similar to the planning of a mastermind criminal — or a brainy sleuth. Forensic professional Lisa Black advances these parallels with a spellbinding, suspenseful battle of wits and intriguing gamesmanship between Ms. MacLean and Mr. Kovacic. "Evidence of Murder" has plenty of physical action as well.

Until the last turn of the plot, the outcome is . . . well, you know.

Books reviewed in this column are

available online or at your local bookstore.
Book Signings for Lisa
Black's "Evidence of Murder"
>>Sept. 19 at 1 p.m.: Books-A-Million
at The Forum
9360 Dynasty Drive, Fort Myers
>>Sept. 29 at 7 p.m.: Books-A-Million
at Naples Shopping Center
2063 Tamiami Trail N, Naples

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