The arrival of one of Lisa Black’s Theresa MacLean novels is comparable to a letter from home. MacLean, like her creator, is a forensic investigator with the Cleveland Police Department. Given that I misspent a good deal of my wayward youth in various and sundry corners, dark and otherwise, of Cleveland and its surrounding environs, I appreciate it when authors set their stories here and, more importantly, get it right. Black does this, on a par with the immortal Les Roberts. She combines this accuracy for detail with an in-the-room view of the investigation into murders most foul and an intricate plot that transcends the whodunit level. The result is a consistent string of books that are addictive reads whether one is familiar with the city or not.
"One of Black’s many strengths includes her ability to wed a solid plot with a tantalizing mystery, and DEFENSIVE WOUNDS is a textbook example of this."
DEFENSIVE WOUNDS, Black’s latest work, plays with her own rules a bit. She freely acknowledges in her Author’s Notes and Acknowledgements that she fudges geographical reality just a bit by placing the Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland and the landmark Terminal Tower in cozy proximity to each other, with the tower atop the hotel, when in fact they are about a half-mile in distance apart. But it’s easy to forgive this bit of whimsy given the accuracy with which each site is portrayed.
The book opens with a murder in the middle of a continuing legal education seminar for criminal defense attorneys that is being held at the Ritz-Carlton. The victim is Marie Corrigan, who is famous (arguably infamous) for doing anything she can do, ethically or otherwise, to obtain not-guilty verdicts for her clients. Her demise is not exactly unwelcomed by the police department or by MacLean. The circumstances of her death are mysterious, to say the least, given that she is found bludgeoned and bound in a vacant hotel suite. In an interesting 21st-century variation of a “locked room” mystery, it is a room that the victim could not have accessed and that only a very limited number of hotel employees, all more or less accounted for, could have entered.
When a second defense attorney at the conference is dispatched in a similar manner, the seminar is thrown into chaos. Corrigan and the detectives assigned to the case begin looking into links, other than their professions, between the two victims. They find plenty of them, personal and professional, though none that necessarily bring them closer to the murderer.
At the same time, MacLean is closer to the case than she would like to be. Her daughter, Rachel, is a desk clerk at the hotel, and is becoming increasingly attracted to a co-worker, who, it turns out, has a connection to Corrigan and a closely held secret of his own. As the investigation progresses, mother and daughter unwittingly come closer and closer to putting themselves in the killer’s reach. In a gut-wrenching climax full of surprises, MacLean makes a series of shocking discoveries, at the risk of losing the one thing she holds most dear.
One of Black’s many strengths includes her ability to wed a solid plot with a tantalizing mystery, and DEFENSIVE WOUNDS is a textbook example of this. There are more mysteries in the pages of this book than one might think, and the revelations that come quickly and furiously at the conclusion take MacLean and Black to new heights (literally). Read this novel and then pack a bag for Cleveland.