Jen J. Danna’s Abbott & Lowell Series

Jen_DannaAbout the author:

Jen J. Danna pen name for Jennifer Newton

Writing partner Ann Vanderlaan

Born: Burlington, Ontario, Canada


B.A., Biology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada


Publisher: Self-publishes through Five Star

Thriller Sub-genre: Forensic Thriller

Future of the series: Danna has released the next addition to the series which is entitled Lament the Common Bones on 11/21/17.

My Review of Lament the Common Bones

The Simon Review

In my search for a good forensic thriller, my choices have become quite slime as I have reviewed most of the good forensic thriller series out there. As I was about to give up, finding only mediocre or really bad series, I have come across a gem of a series that really piqued my interest and that would be the Abbott and Lowell series by Canadian writer Jen J. Danna with writing partner Ann Vanderlaan.  This series has a combination of good ol’ forensic techno-fun along with a sensitive romance between two protagonists, Trooper First Class Leigh Abbot from the Massachusetts State Police and physical anthropologist Matt Lowell.

Danna and Vanderlaan’s series stands out from other forensic thrillers by having the main female character take on the role as the cop with the geeky scientist being a man. Even though Matt Lowell may appear to be as geeky as one can be, beneath all that intellect is an ex-marine. It may seem paradoxical to have a scientist and a marine in the same body, as marines are often stereotypically seen as testosterone driven, right-wing radicals and scientist as card-carrying liberal atheist but Danna and Vanderlaan’s character unquestionably pulls it off and makes for a fun character in this series.

Leigh Abbott is what you expect from a female cop, tough on the surface but feeling vulnerable in a male dominated occupation. One unique feature of Abbott is that she is a state cop for the state of Massachusetts which is unique since most series usually portray the cops either as a city cop or as a FBI agent. By making this differentiation, Abbott can take on cases anywhere in the state of Massachusetts instead of being confined to the streets of Boston or having temporary jurisdiction as a FBI agent. Danna and Vanderlaan also show that state troopers are more than highway patrolman whose only purpose in life is to give us motorist speeding tickets.

Then there is the dedicated slave labor of academia, the graduate students.  The senior graduate student is Akiko ‘Kiko’ Niigata, the only female in the group with has an artistic flair.  Paul Lange the group’s wise-guy with spiky blond hair to match his personality.   Juka Petrović, the more somber member of the group who comes from Bosnia.  This merry band of sleep deprived nerds is a nice addition to the series and I always enjoy seeing grad students being portrayed in science based fiction.

Unquestionably, the best part of the series is the science. Danna and Vanderlaan starts out each chapter with a technical word in review with the word or phrase having a relationship with the theme of the book such as fire-fighting terms in A Flame in the Wind of Death and prohibition terms in Two Parts Bloody Murder. The geek in me just loves this kind of stuff as it makes the series not only entertaining but informative as well. Danna keeps up with the latest forensic science which she incorporates in her novels and writes about on her blog, Skeleton Keys. So for you die-hard CSI fans who love to see the latest forensic science techniques, this series is one that you do not want to miss.

It would be best to read this series in order or at least read the first novel in the series Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It as it portrays the beginning of Abbott and Lowell’s relationship which sets up the basis for the rest of the series. There is a secondary storyline in which Abbott is in pursuit of an unknown person that is trying to discredit her father, a former state trooper who was killed in the line of duty, which begins in the 3rd book of the series and seems to be ongoing as the series continues.

Simon’s pick:

Most Favorite Novel in the Series- A Flame in the Wind of Death- because of witches and arson

Least Favorite Novel in the Series- No One Sees Me Til’ I Fall-because it is a novella which means it seems to end almost as soon as it starts

What about the science? Jen Danna’s day job is working as a research support specialist at McMaster University in a laboratory that specializes in infectious diseases, so she is quite knowledgeable in the sciences. Danna explains the science in manner that makes it very easy for the lay person to understand. I do have a little issue on the usage of red vs white phosphorus and the reaction with latex mentioned in A Flame in the Wind of Death (see technical word in review) but otherwise the science is sound.

I am not quite sure what Ann Vanderlaan’s function is within the series as she doesn’t seem to be a co-author but instead a writing partner. Additionally, while researching, it was difficult to find any information about Ms. Vanderlaan with the exception that she formerly worked in the field of science.

The Matt Lowell Technical Word in Review: Red phosphorus-Phosphorus as an element exists in various physical forms known as allotropes.  The different allotropes are known as white, red, violet, scarlet and black phosphorus as well as the elusive di-phosphorus form.

White phosphorus with the nickname ‘Willy Pete’ is a very unstable form of phosphorus which exists as a P4 tetrahedron. It exists as a waxy-like solid which can be colorless, yellow, or white depending on its purity. It oxidizes very easily and when exposed to air will ignite. Because of its reactivity to oxygen it is often stored in water.

White Phosphorus- Image from Wikimedia Commons
3D Structure of white phosphorus- Image from Wikimedia Commons

Black phosphorus is the most stable form and has a molecular structure much like a two-dimensional wrinkled sheet similar to that of graphene. Black phosphorus is naturally produced under extreme pressures and has recently become the new darling material for nano-scientists and shows promising uses in optical sensing.

Black Phosphorus- Image from Wikimedia Commons
3D structure of black phosphorus- Image from Wikimedia Commons

Red phosphorus is formed by heating white phosphorus at temperatures of 250oC (482oF) or exposing it to the sun. Red phosphorus is considerably more stable than white phosphorus and will not ignite at room temperature. Heating red phosphorus in the presence of water will form phosphine gas which is extremely toxic as well as flammable. Red phosphorus is used as the strike plate on match boxes and when a match head, which is made of sodium or potassium chlorate, strikes the plate, the friction results in heat which converts the red phosphorus back to white phosphorus and ignition occurs.   Red phosphorus has many other applications including uses in fertilizers, pesticides, and drugs including the production of methamphetamines.

Red phosphorus- Image from Wikimedia Commons
3D structure of red phosphorus- Image from Wikimedia Commons

The other allotropes are considerably less common. Violet phosphorus is formed by heating white phosphorus for extended periods of time. Scarlet phosphorus is formed by boiling red phosphorus in the presence of phosphorus tribromide. Scarlet phosphorus has physical properties similar to red phosphorus but reactivity properties similar to white phosphorus. Diphosphorus only exist as an intermediate in certain reactions and is extremely unstable.

“The oil drips onto the paper,” Matt said. “Then as the level drops, the red phosphorus – I’m guessing it floats in the oil – finally contacts the latex of the balloon. I assume there’s an exothermic reaction at this point?”

“English please,” Leigh said in a resigned tone. “Remember, we’re all not science majors.”

A small smile curved on Bree’s lips as she translated. “The latex reacts with the red phosphorus producing a sudden burst of heat. The heat melts the balloon causing it to burst into flames. Then those flaming bits of latex fall to the floor.”– A Flame in the Wind of Death

In this passage, I am dubious on Danna’s use of red phosphorus as a reactant with latex. Latex is fairly nonreactive to most chemicals and is the reason why latex gloves are useful in a laboratory setting as a protectant. Additionally, red phosphorus is relatively stable unless friction or heating in the presence of water is involved. I think in the balloon situation, Danna actually meant for the phosphorus to be white phosphorus which is actually reacting to the exposure of oxygen, not the latex, which results in ignition. Popular Science writer Theodore Gray, also known as the Mad Scientist, did a demonstration of the phosphorescent properties of white phosphorus by covering his latex glove covered hand with white phosphorus. The glove did not burn which gives credence that it was the oxygen that the phosphorus reacted to and not the latex.

Books in the Series by Order:

Vote for your favorite Forensic Thriller on the Forensic Fiction List on Goodreads Listopia.

Goodreads Forensic Fiction Best List

Most Favorite in the series: A Flame in the Wind of Death with a score of 4.30

Least Favorite in the series: Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It with a score of 4.09

Based on overall ratings from Goodreads, Library Thing and Amazon (US & UK)

(does not include any novel that has less than 100 ratings)

Dead_Without_Stone#1 -Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It- 2013

First Line:

The night is never silent.


Leigh Abbott: Trooper First Class with the Massachusetts State Police

Matt Lowell: Physical anthropologist and faculty member at Boston University Medical School-former marine that served in Afghanistan

Akiko ‘Kiko’ Niigata: Senior graduate student of Matt Lowell

Paul Lange: Graduate student

Juka Petrović: Graduate student

Edward Rowe: Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Mike Lowell: Matt’s father who is paralyzed from the waist down as a result of a car accident

The Setting

Boston, Massachusetts

When a human bone is found on a lonely stretch of coastline, a determined homicide detective and a reluctant scientist risk their lives when they join forces to bring a serial killer to justice.

Trooper Leigh Abbot has something to prove, both to herself and to the chauvinistic men in her department. She’s been assigned a difficult challenge: solve a murder where the only evidence is a single bone. To identify the victim and find the killer, she must join forces with forensic anthropologist Matt Lowell. Matt’s initial refusal to join the team is only the first in a series of setbacks.

Matt and Leigh’s skills and tenuous partnership are tested when the evidence leads them to a burial ground of unidentified victims, where, to their horror, they stumble upon a freshly ravaged corpse. As the body count rises, the team must piece together a deadly puzzle spanning years of clandestine killings.

Before long, the serial killer raises the stakes and Matt and Leigh find themselves marked as targets. Now they must stop the killer before they become the next victims.

And that rebel emblem binds me

Close within those bloody bars.

Dead? without a stone to tell it,

Nor a flower above my breast!

“Here a brave man lies at rest!”

Looking for a review of Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It?  Check out:

Reviewing the Evidence

Gumshoe Reviews

Wording Well

Amazon Rating-US: 4.40 out of 5 stars based on 19 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 2 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.95 out of 5 stars based on 151 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 4 ratings

Total Score 4.09 (updated 12/4/18)




No_one_sees_me_fall#2-No One Sees Me Til’ I Fall- 2013

First Line:

Death has not come gently.


Leigh Abbott, Matt Lowell, Akiko ‘Kiko’ Niigata, Paul Lange, Mike Lowell, Juka Petrović

Hoor Ahmadi: murder victim

The Setting

Boston, Massachusetts

Only the joint forces of science and law enforcement can help when a young woman is found brutally murdered with her identity erased.

Massachusetts State Police Trooper Leigh Abbott and forensic anthropologist Matt Lowell come together to solve their second case when the remains of a young woman are found, thrown away like garbage at a local landfill. But what seems straightforward becomes something much more sinister when the victim’s bone damage reveals a shocking history of abuse. It will take reliving the horrors of Matt’s military background, all the team’s forensic skills, and Leigh’s intuition combined for them to catch the killer and give the victim the justice she deserves.

Looking for a review of No One Sees Me Til’ I Fall?  Check out:

Wording Well

Off-The-Shelf Book Reviews

Amazon Rating-US: 4.31 out of 5 stars based on 36 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 5.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 4.05 out of 5 stars based on 91 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 ratings

Total Score 4.13 (updated 12/4/18)



Flame_Wind_Death#3-A Flame in the Wind of Death- 2014

Listed #97 out of 121 on Goodreads Best Forensic Fiction Book List

Listed #141 out of 168 on Goodreads Best Science Thrillers Book List

First Line:

As if by magic, flames suddenly burst in midair, slicing through the smothering darkness.


Leigh Abbott, Matt Lowell, Akiko ‘Kiko’ Niigata, Paul Lange, Mike Lowell, Edward Rowe, and Juka Petrović

Brianna ‘Bree’ Gilson: State Fire Marshall for the Fire Investigation Unit

The Setting

Boston and Salem, Massachusetts

At Halloween, Salem, Massachusetts is a hot spot for Witch and tourist alike. But when a murder spree begins, a cop and scientist must team up to find the killer before a media circus unleashes, panic ensues, and more victims are killed.

Forensic anthropologist Matt Lowell and Massachusetts State Police Trooper Leigh Abbott are called in to investigate burned remains following a fire in a historic antique shop. As Matt, Leigh and their team of graduate students investigate the death, clues point to Salem’s traditional Witchcraft community. However, having dabbled in the Craft as a teenager, Leigh is skeptical that someone who has sworn an oath of good to all and harm to none would commit premeditative murder, let alone kill in such a vicious way.

A second body is found in a similar fire and the team begins to suspect that coven members are being framed. Now they must solve the murders before 100,000 tourists overrun Salem for what could be the deadliest Halloween of their lives.

Looking for a review of A Flame in the Wind of Death?  Check out:

Wording Well

Reviewing the Evidence

Gumshoe Review

Amazon Rating-US: 4.78 out of 5 stars based on 18 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 5.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 4.20 out of 5 stars based on 91 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 rating

Total Score 4.30 (updated 12/4/18)




Two_parts_bloody_murder#4-Two Parts Bloody Murder- 2015

First Line:

He stepped back from his handiwork, the wooden handle slipping from his damp fingers as the tool fell with a clatter to the scarred wood floor.


Leigh Abbott, Matt Lowell, Akiko ‘Kiko’ Niigata, Paul Lange, Mike Lowell, Edward Rowe, and Juka Petrović

The Setting

Boston, Massachusetts

Prohibition was a time of clandestine excess–short skirts, drinking, dancing . . . and death. But a murder committed so many years ago still has the power to reverberate decades later with deadly consequences.

It’s a double surprise for Trooper Leigh Abbott as she investigates a cold case and discovers two murder victims in a historic nineteenth-century building. Together with forensic anthropologist Matt Lowell and medical examiner Dr. Edward Rowe, she uncovers the secrets of a long-forgotten, Prohibition-era speakeasy in the same building. But when the two victims are discovered to be relatives–their deaths separated by over eighty years–the case deepens, and suddenly the speakeasy is revealed as ground zero for a cascade of crimes through the decades. When a murder committed nearly forty years ago comes under fresh scrutiny, the team realizes that an innocent man was wrongly imprisoned and the real murderer is still at large. Now they must solve three murders spanning over eighty years if they hope to set a wronged man free.

Looking for a review of A Flame in the Wind of Death?  Check out:

Reviewing the Evidence

Amazon Rating: 4.64 out of 5 stars based on 14 reviews

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 4.04 out of 5 stars based on 70 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 4.00 out of 5 stars based on 1 rating

Total Score 4.15 (updated 12/4/18)



#5-Lament the Common Bones- 2017

My Review

First Line:

The victim’s breath gurgled a strangled cry as blood flowed hot and fast over dirty skin.

When death hides in plain sight, only the most discerning eye can see the truth.

Forensic anthropologist Dr. Matt Lowell and his team of grad students don’t go looking for death—it usually comes to them. But when one of Matt’s students suspects the skeleton hanging in a top competitor’s lab is actually from a murder victim, Matt has no choice but to sneak in to confirm a suspicious death. Once the case comes to Massachusetts State Police Trooper Leigh Abbott, the team is back together again.

While trying to handle a new murder case, Matt and Leigh also uncover new evidence behind the mysterious deliveries intended to smear the name of Leigh’s father, an honored cop, fallen in the line of duty four years before. When the person behind the deliveries is finally uncovered, it becomes clear that lives are in jeopardy if they attempt to thwart him. At the same time, as the murder case delves into underground societies and grows complicated when the killer himself becomes a victim, it will take all of Matt and Leigh’s teamwork to solve both cases and escape with their lives.

Looking for a review of Lament the Common Bones?  Check out:

Steph’s Book Blog

Bibliophile Book Club

Amazon Rating-US: 4.67 out of 5 stars based on 9 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.50 out of 5 stars based on 6 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 4.44 out of 5 stars based on 27 ratings

Library Thing Rating: not reviewed

Total Score 4.50 (updated 12/4/18)

4 thoughts on “Jen J. Danna’s Abbott & Lowell Series

  1. Hi Victoria, first of all, it’s always nice to meet another scientist and ‘lab rat’. Thank you so much for reviewing the series and I’m thrilled that you enjoyed it.

    Just wanted to comment briefly on your thoughts on phosphorus (which were super!). In the case of A FLAME IN THE WIND OF DEATH, we really did mean red phosphorus. In fact, that’s a real incendiary device with those exact specifications. We had a team of fireman (acknowledged at the beginning of the book, and including the department fire marshal) and they had a brain storming session, comparing the best of the best of what they had personally experienced. The red phosphorus device was best for our needs as it was essentially a time sensitive device, giving the arsonist time to escape his own inferno, but it was also the most interesting device. So, in this case, it really was a actual combination that has started real fires.

  2. Hi Jen-Glad to see you found my review. I really enjoyed the series and I am looking forward in seeing more of Abbott & Lowell.

    I appreciate your comments on the red phosphorus. I am curious on the interaction of latex with phosphorus. I tried finding something about it in the literature but came up empty handed. It is a neat device and I am looking forward in seeing what other fun science that you come up with in the series.

    1. I have to admit the incendiary device is the one thing I let the experts do the science on. It was a proven device in a real scenario that would have necessitated mass spec etc. so I admit I didn’t ask them for their peer reviewed paper to back it up. 😉 I had enough papers to deal with already! 🙂

      FYI, the next Abbott and Lowell will be out in 2016. It’s called LAMENT THE COMMON BONES.

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