Lisa Black’s Maggie Gardiner and Jack Renner Series

About the author:


B.S. – Biology, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH


Thriller Sub-genre: Forensic Thriller

Future of the series: The latest book in the series entitled Every Kind of Wicked was released on 8/25/2020.

The Simon Review

I have previously reviewed Lisa Black’s Theresa MacLean forensic science series and found to it to be a reasonably good series, not great but not bad. Black has now turned her attention to a new series and has so far written five books with a sixth to be released soon. All I can say about this new series is “WOW” what an improvement, it is really good. The best part of this new series is the interesting connection between the two main characters, Maggie Gardiner and Jack Renner.

Maggie Gardiner is a forensic specialist and Jack Renner is a police detective. Both work for the Cleveland Police Department and in the beginning they cross paths infrequently. They only really begin to engage with each other because of a unique pastime of Jack Renner. On the job as a police officer Jack Renner spends his time enforcing the law for the City of Cleveland, but during his spare time he is tracking down criminals that have managed to evade the legal system and then killing them. Jack Renner is a vigilante and Maggie Gardiner, using her forensic skills, discovers Renner’s illicit acts. Normally the law abiding Gardiner would immediately turn Renner in but a series of events prevents her from doing so without jeopardizing herself. So this tenuous dance between Renner and Gardiner begins while both continue to fight to protect the citizens of Cleveland.

Even though Jack Renner is a murderer, I still like this character. He has sacrificed everything in his life in order to rid the world of the nastiest of the nasty. So how could I possibly like a vigilante? Vigilantism is very much an illegal act and by no way should we condone it, but underneath the surface we have a love/hate relationship with vigilantism. Most of the superheroes that we have grown to love are by all means vigilantes. From Iron Man killing Thanos to Superman killing General Zod, superheroes have eliminated the bad guys without consideration that perhaps they deserved to be tried before a court of law. Deep down many of us wish that somebody would take out the drug lords, corrupt corporate executives and evil politicians of the world when their crimes go on for years and they evade the judicial system by using their money or connections to bail them out. But vigilantism is more often committed because of a warped sense of what is right and wrong and is often influenced by racial and sexist bias. A good example is the recent murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man that was tracked down by three white men because they believed he committed a crime for which he did not commit.  Even though our justice system is far from perfect it is still better than letting vigilantes decide who is a criminal because most vigilantes are not Iron Man.

I am not the only one that is questioning their feelings on vigilantism, Maggie Gardiner struggles with it throughout the series. In the beginning, Gardiner barely knows Renner and her feelings towards him as a vigilante are hostile but as the series progresses, she gets to know him better and her feelings become more ambivalent. Renner is also having a difficult time with their relationship. Normally, he would jump ship and create a new identity but his concern for Gardiner and the burden that he has created for her forces him to stay put.

Each book in the series deals with a murder or murders that are related to modern social issues, such as the demise of the newspaper industry, juvenile detention, and with the latest book of the series, phone scamming. For the most part, the series does not need to be read in order with the exception of the relationship between Renner and Gardiner which progresses with each novel. And of course there is forensics, from trace analysis to fingerprint examination, the CSI lover will be blissfully happy.

Simon’s pick:

Most Favorite Novel in the Series- Every Kind of Wicked- because of the ending

Least Favorite Novel in the Series- Unpunished- because the discussion on the downfall of the newspaper industry was a bit on the tedious side.

What about the science? Most of the science centers around forensic science, namely trace analysis, and Lisa Black is a forensic specialist with years of experience so I trust that the science is sound. Fingerprint analysis is also a forensic technique that Maggie Gardiner performs but it is not really considered a true science mainly because it is somewhat subjective and is heavily dependent on the examiners abilities. Even Maggie admitted that the forensic analysis software is not very good at identifying latent prints and she had to use her own abilities to make the identifications. The reason that fingerprint analysis has so much ambiguity is that it is difficult to get an exact match from a print that had been previously archived with one that is collected at a crime scene (partial prints, smudges, etc.) which is why the software has a difficult time identifying the print.

The Technical Word in Review: Thermocycler- In 1993 biochemist Kary Mullis won the Nobel Prize for his invention of a technique known as the Polymerase Chain Reaction also known as PCR. The technique revolutionized the fields of genetics and biochemistry by amplifying specific regions of DNA which is necessary to study variations in our genes. Before PCR, the process of getting enough of the DNA of interest was difficult if not impossible to do.

If you were a graduate student in the early days of PCR, you would have been bored to tears when running a PCR reaction in that the technique requires a series of heating and cooling steps, sometimes as many as 50 cycles. The heating process results in the denaturation of DNA which is the separation of two complimentary DNA strands and high temperatures breaks the bonds that keeps the two strands of DNA together in a helix. Breaking apart the two strands is necessary because the binding of a ‘DNA primer’, which is a specific small strand of DNA that targets the area of interest and DNA polymerase, an enzyme that synthesizes a new complimentary strain of DNA needs to bind to a single strand of DNA. The temperature then needs to be cooled because the primer and DNA polymerase will not bind and work at the higher temperature. This heating and cooling process must be done numerous times in order to get enough DNA. Additionally, in the early days new DNA polymerase must be added to each cycle because it is destroyed when the temperature is increased. I am sure every graduate student or technician lamented that there must be a better way to do this after spending hours moving their samples back and forth between two water baths. And then along came the thermocycler.

The first step in making the PCR process easier was to find a DNA polymerase that was stable at higher temperatures. Kary Mullis and the folks at Cetus Corporation found that DNA polymerase from a heat loving bacteria known as Thermus aquaticus was stable at the higher temperatures needed to denature DNA. This DNA polymerase was affectionately named Taq and Cetus Corporation and later Hoffman-La Roche made a ton of money off its patent. The next step was to create an instrument that could cycle the temperature accurately. The first thermocycler was a robotic arm that moved the samples back and forth between water baths but was later developed into a more compact instrument that used a metal block that could be heated and cooled without having to remove the samples. Graduate students around the world could now heave a sigh of relief.

“I know.” Maggie filled her mug with steaming coffee, added cream and sank heavily into her desk chair. She sat perhaps fifteen feet from Carol but they could easily hear each other, with no fume hoods, thermocyclers, or chromatographs currently running. “But his wallet’s been emptied, he hasn’t been in a fight, and he had a key strapped to his ankle.”

Very early version of a “thermocycler”

Books in the Series by Order:

Most Favorite in the series: Let Justice Descend with a score of 3.70

Least Favorite in the series: That Darkness with a score of 3.49

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

#1-That Darkness- 2013

First Line:

The room wasn’t much, just a steel table and chairs, old paint on the walls with the occasional rust stain, two windows frosted by contact paper and a battered desk in the corner, well out of splattering range.


Maggie Gardiner: A forensic specialist for the Cleveland Police Department

Jack Renner: A police detective for Cleveland Police Department and vigilante in his spare time

Rick Gardiner: Maggie’s ex-husband and also a cop for the Cleveland Police Department

Thomas Riley: Renner’s police detective partner

Carol: Maggie’s co-worker also a forensic specialist

Denny: Maggie’s supervisor

The Setting

Cleveland, Ohio

As a forensic investigator for the Cleveland Police Department, Maggie Gardiner has seen her share of Jane Does. The latest is an unidentified female in her early teens, discovered in a local cemetery. More shocking than the girl’s injuries–for Maggie at least–is the fact that no one has reported her missing. She and the detectives assigned to the case (including her cop ex-husband) are determined to follow every lead, run down every scrap of evidence. But the monster they seek is watching every move, closer to them than they could possibly imagine.

Jack Renner is a killer. He doesn’t murder because he enjoys it, or because he believes himself omnipotent, or for any reason other than to make the world a safer place. When he follows the trail of this Jane Doe to a locked room in a small apartment where eighteen teenaged girls are anything but safe, he knows something must be done. But his pursuit of their captor takes an unexpected turn.

Maggie Gardiner finds another body waiting for her in the autopsy room–and a host of questions that will challenge everything she believes about justice, morality, and the true nature of evil …

But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! Matthew 6:23

Looking for a review of That Darkness?  Check out:

Sunday Gatherings

Bookish Devices

Adan Ramie

Errant Dreams

On Reading and Writing

Amazon Rating: 3.66 out of 5 stars based on 121 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 3.52 out of 5 stars based on 30 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.48 out of 5 stars based on 1,568 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.62 out of 5 stars based on 37 ratings

Total Score 3.49

#2-Unpunished- 2017

First Line:

Jack eyed the kid as his partner continued the questioning, noting how he had perfected the adolescent sprawl, head lolling, face bored nearly to a coma, arms and legs splayed in a show of utter contempt for both surroundings and the two men present thereor at least as splayed as he could get with one hand cuffed to the table..


Maggie Gardiner, Jack Renner, Rick Gardiner, Thomas Riley, Carol, and Denny

The Setting

Cleveland, Ohio

It begins with the kind of bizarre death that makes headlines—literally. A copy editor at the Cleveland Herald is found hanging above the grinding wheels of the newspaper assembly line, a wide strap wrapped around his throat. Forensic investigator Maggie Gardiner has her suspicions about this apparent suicide inside the tsunami of tensions that is the news industry today—and when the evidence suggests murder, Maggie has no choice but to place her trust in the one person she doesn’t trust at all …

Jack Renner is a killer with a conscience, a vigilante with his own code of honor. In the past, Jack has used his skills and connections as a homicide detective to take the law into his own hands, all in the name of justice. He has only one problem: Maggie knows his secret. She insists he enforce the law, not subvert it. But when more newspaper employees are slain, Jack may be the only person who can help Maggie unmask the killer– even if Jack is still checking names off his own private murder list.

A false witness shall not go unpunished, and he who speaketh lies shall not escape.–Proverbs 19:5

Looking for a review of Unpunished?  Check out:

But Books are Better

Two Girls and a Book

Avonna Loves Genres

Amazon Rating: 3.84 out of 5 stars based on 83 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.07 out of 5 stars based on 30 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.53 out of 5 stars based on 888 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.73 out of 5 stars based on 20 ratings

Total Score 3.57

#3-Perish- 2018

First Line:

The murder had taken place in the living room, which Maggie found odd.


Maggie Gardiner, Jack Renner, Rick Gardiner, Thomas Riley, Carol, and Denny

The Setting

Cleveland, Ohio

Maggie knows that to crack the case, she and Jack will have to infiltrate the cutthroat world of high-stakes finance. But the offices of Sterling Financial seethe with potential suspects, every employee hellbent on… making a killing. When another officer uncovers disturbing evidence in a series of unrelated murders, the investigation takes a surprising detour.

Only Maggie recognizes the blood-soaked handiwork of a killer who has committed the most heinous of crimes—and will continue killing until he is stopped. Burdened with unbearable secrets, Maggie must make an agonizing choice, while her conscience keeps telling her: she’s next.

May your money perish with you…–Acts 8:20

Looking for a review of Perish?  Check out:

Kirkus Reviews

Publisher Weekly

Amazon Rating: 4.40 out of 5 stars based on 30 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 4.80 out of 5 stars based on 8 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.56 out of 5 stars based on 505 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.60 out of 5 stars based on 10 ratings

Total Score 3.63

#4-Suffer the Children- 2018

First Line:

Rachel hated kitchen work.


Maggie Gardiner, Jack Renner, Rick Gardiner, Thomas Riley, Carol, and Denny

The Setting

Cleveland, Ohio

The body of fifteen-year-old Rachael Donahue—abandoned by society, raised in foster homes, and violently unapproachable—has been discovered at the bottom of a stairwell at Firebird, the secure facility for juvenile offenders in Cleveland. For Maggie and Jack, Rachael’s death comes with a disturbing twist—the girl may have been involved with a much older man.

But Rachael’s not the only resident at the center to come to a dead end. Firebird’s ten-year-old “wild child” has overdosed in the infirmary—back-to-back tragedies that appear to be terrible accidents. As a forensic investigator, Maggie knows appearances can be deceiving. And Jack knows all about deceit. That’s why they both suspect a cold-blooded murderer is carrying out a deadly agenda.

As Maggie’s ex-husband gets nearer to uncovering the secrets that Maggie and Jack must hide, it becomes increasingly harder for them to protect a new and vulnerable victim from a killer with unfathomable demons.

Suffer the little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me. –Matthew 19:14

Looking for a review of Suffer the Children?  Check out:

Rocky Porch Moore

Carries Book Reviews

Amazon Rating: 3.89 out of 5 stars based on 22 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 3.78 out of 5 stars based on 8 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.67 out of 5 stars based on 426 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.86 out of 5 stars based on 7 ratings

Total Score 3.68

#5-Let Justice Descend- 2019

First Line:



Maggie Gardiner:

Jack Renner:

The Setting

Cleveland, Ohio

Three days before a key election, U.S. Senator Diane Cragin is electrocuted on her own doorstep—a shocking twist in an already brutal political race. The obvious culprit is Cragin’s rival Joey Green, a city official who’s had his hand in every till in town for the past twenty years. But after discovering a fortune in cash in Cragin’s safe, Maggie and Jack suspect they’ve stepped into a much bigger conspiracy—and they’d better watch their backs.

Dogged by a reporter on the verge of discovering the truth about Jack’s deadly brand of justice, Maggie and Jack plow through a city seething with corruption. As one murder leads to another, and another, their only chance to stop a killer requires trusting each other. Easier said than done.

Let justice descend, you heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the clouds drop it down –Isaiah 45:3

Looking for a review of Let Justice Descend?  Check out:

Dru’s Book Musings

Phil Jason Reviews Books

Amazon Rating: 3.78 out of 5 stars based on 45 ratings

Amazon Rating-UK: 3.60 out of 5 stars based on 8 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.67 out of 5 stars based on 258 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 4.13 out of 5 stars based on 4 ratings

Total Score 3.70

#6-Every Kind of Wicked- 2020

First Line:

“Well, that’s less than helpful,” Maggie said of the snow.


Maggie Gardiner, Jack Renner, Thomas Riley, Carol, and Denny

The Setting

Cleveland, Ohio

Life and death have brought Maggie Gardiner full circle, back to the Erie Street Cemetery where she first entered Jack Renner’s orbit. Eight months ago, she learned what Jack would do in the name of justice. More unsettling still, she discovered how far she would go to cover his tracks. Now a young man sprawls atop a snowy grave, his heart shredded by a single wound. A key card in the victim’s wallet leads to the local university’s student housing—and to a grieving girlfriend with an unsettling agenda.

Maggie’s struggle to appease her conscience is complicated by her ex-husband, Rick, who’s convinced that Jack is connected to a series of vigilante killings. Also a homicide detective, Rick investigates what seems like a routine overdose on Cleveland’s West Side; but here, too, the appearance belies a deeper truth.

Rick’s case and Jack’s merge onto the trail of a shadowy, pill-pushing physician who is everywhere and nowhere at once, while Maggie and Jack uncover a massive financial shakedown hiding in plain sight. And when Rick’s bloody fingerprint is found at another murder scene, Maggie’s world comes undone in a violent, irreversible torrent of events . . .

“They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice –Romans 1:29

Looking for a review of Every Kind of Wicked?  Check out:

Sunday Gatherings

Dru’s Book Musings


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