Lisa Black’s Theresa MacLean Series

L Black author photoAbout the author:

Education: B.S. Biology-Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH


Thriller Sub-genre: Forensic Thriller

Publisher: Severn House Publishers

Future of the series:  Unknown

Review of the Latest in the Series-Close to the Bone

The Simon Review

After I read the first novel of Lisa Black’s Theresa MacLean series I almost didn’t continue on to read the next novel, however, I am glad that I decided not to do that because her novels are improving with each new addition to the series. The first novel didn’t grab me because the characters were very ho-hum, the plot was predictable, and there wasn’t a lot of forensics which was surprising as the author is a forensic scientist. The novel that really did gain my attention was Trail of Blood in which Black created a series of fictional modern day murders that paralleled with the real life Torso Killings of Cleveland that occurred in the mid-1930s.

The heroine of the series is Theresa MacLean, a forensic investigator, with the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner in Cleveland, Ohio. MacLean is divorced with a teenage daughter, Rachael. In the very beginning of the series she is engaged to Paul Cleary, a homicide detective, who is taken hostage and wounded during a takeover of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. MacLean volunteers herself as an exchange hostage for Cleary and the story goes from there. We never really get to know Cleary, as he is killed off early in the novel. MacLean’s other relationships within the series are weak if non-existent. It isn’t until the latest book of the series, The Price of Innocence, does MacLean actually develop a social life. There is not much character development with MacLean throughout the series and the only real relationship that she seems to have is with her daughter Rachael and her cousin Frank Patrick, who is a homicide detective and works on most of the cases with MacLean. Because of the lack of good character development, the series trends toward the mediocre side. The stories for the most part are interesting and quite suspenseful but it is difficult to relate to MacLean.

There is one shining light in the series that I want to mention and that is the character known as Oliver. Oliver is a chemist that does his analysis on the mass spectrometer. Anyone that has been a member of a laboratory has either worked or will work with an Oliver. Oliver is very smart and talented but is arrogant, antisocial, and totally lacking in social skills. The combination of these characteristics makes for a great character and I hope that Black continues to keep him in the series and perhaps give him a bigger role.

Even though the first couple of novels are lackluster, the series is improving. Since there is not a lot of character development, the novels can be read as standalones. I did enjoy the latest novel, The Price of Innocence, and I am sure that I will read any other additions to the series as they become available.

Simon’s pick:

Most Favorite Novel in the SeriesTrail of Blood, because the parallel created between some modern day murders with the historical murders committed by the Cleveland Torso Killer made for an interesting read.

Least Favorite Novel in the Series Takeover, because the story was predictable, the characters flat, and the forensics was lacking.

What about the science?

Lisa Black is a forensic investigator and is involved in the more technical aspect of forensics; so for the most part the forensics is sound. However, most of the forensics throughout the series is not very glamorous and has pretty much been done before in other venues, so nothing really new and different.

The Theresa MacLean Technical Word in Review: Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer-is an instrument that uses a technique known as spectroscopy, that takes advantage of the fact that molecules will absorb energy and the type of energy that is absorb is specific to a particular molecule. In this particular type of spectroscopy the interest is focused in the infrared region of the spectrum. When a spectrum of light is transmitted through a sample, the molecule or molecules will absorb the energy from the light and the energy not absorbed by the sample will be transmitted to a detector. The detector then compares the beam coming through the sample with a reference beam and the signal produced will be analyzed by a computer using an algorithm called a Fourier Transform that converts signal into a spectrum that can be interpreted.

The spectrum is basically a fingerprint of a substance which can be compared to a database of other known samples that have been analyzed previously. The ability to do this makes this a very powerful tool in forensics to identify unknown compounds.

She took advantage of the quiet to place the tapings back into their envelopes and remove the piece of aqua sweatshirt with the oil stain on it. She carefully smeared the stain onto a round, flat circle made of potassium bromide and dropped this into a slot on the stage of the FTIR. The Fourier transform infrared spectrometer pitched a beam of light through her sample and provided a single colored line on the results graph. The peaks identified the functional groups present in the molecules of the sample. She stared, consulted her library of spectra, stared again.

It wasn’t oil. It wasn’t paint, adhesive, dirt or lip gloss. So what the hell was it?

The only familiar compound seemed to be phenol, a corrosive often used in the DNA process. It hadn’t been strong enough to damage the sweatshirt, but had left just a spot.Evidence of Murder

The spectrum that MacLean would have seen for phenol would look like the spectrum below.  Additionally the potassium bromide disk that is used to place the sample on is used because the disk is transparent and does not absorb in the infrared region which means it will not leave a spectrum to interfere with the sample.

Phenol Spectrum

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: Price of Innocence with a score of 3.73

Least Favorite in the series: Defensive Wounds with a score of 3.54

Based on overall ratings from Goodreads, Library Thing, Rakuten Kobo, and Amazon

Takeover#1- Takeover- 2008

First Line:

The sun had barely come up, and already it was too hot.


Teresa MacLean: A forensic investigator and single mom

Frank Patrick: A homicide detective and MacLean’s cousin

Chris Cavanaugh: Professional hostage negotiator and celebrity

Rachael MacLean: Teresa MacLean’s teenage daughter

Paul Cleary: MacLean’s fiancé

Leo DiCiccio: MacLean’s supervisor

Oliver: Chemist

The Setting

Cleveland, Ohio

Early one Thursday morning, forensic scientist Theresa MacLean is called to the scene of a gruesome murder. The body of a man has been found on the front lawn of a house in suburban Cleveland, the back of his head bashed in. Although it’s not the best start to her day, Theresa has been through worse. What unfolds during the next eight hours, though, is nothing she could ever have imagined.

Downtown at the Federal Reserve Bank, her police detective fiancé is taken hostage with six others in a robbery masterminded by two clever criminals. When she arrives at the scene, Theresa discovers that the police have brought in the city’s best hostage negotiator: handsome, high-profile Chris Cavanaugh. He hasn’t lost a victim yet, but Theresa wonders if he might be too arrogant to save the day this time around.

When her fiancé is injured, she seizes the opportunity to trade places with him. Once on the inside, she will use all her wiles, experience, and technical skills to gain control of the situation. But what initially appears to be a bank heist turns into something far more complex and deadly, and Theresa must decide how much more she is willing to sacrifice in order to save the lives of innocent people as well as her own.

“We had a takeover about ten minutes ago. Two guys rolled up in front of the bank and went in, armed with some heavy guns. They grabbed some Fed workers before security could do anything, but one guard who’s either stupid or crazy ran outside and removed their car. So they stayed put, with the guns and the hostages. Paul had gone to the Fed to talk to the coworkers and the boss about Ludlow. I had roused a neighbor to get the scoop on our little family, so he went on without me. No one was hurt, Tess. You getting me?”

Looking for reviews for Takeover? Check out:

Mostly Fiction Book Reviews

Curl Up With A Good Book

Rebecca’s Reads Blog


Drowning In Words

It’s All About Books

Amazon Rating: 4.37 out of 5 stars based on 117 ratings

Rakuten Kobo Rating: 3.83 out of 5 stars based on 6 ratings

GoodReads Rating: 3.63 out of 5 stars based on 1,542 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.63 out of 5 stars based on 65 ratings

Total Score 3.68  (updated 11/19/20)




Evidence_of_Murder#2- Evidence of Murder- 2009

First Line:

“I have a building full of dead people,” Theresa MacLean told the detective.


Teresa MacLean, Frank Patrick, Chris Cavanaugh, Rachael MacLean, Leo DiCiccio, and Oliver

Jillian Perry: The victim

Evan Kovacic: The victim’s husband

Drew Fleming: Was obsessively in love with the victim

The Setting

Cleveland, Ohio

Eight months ago, forensic investigator Theresa MacLean lost her fiancé in a bank robbery gone wrong, and she’s had trouble concentrating on her work ever since. But now a particularly difficult case may just be what she needs to regain her focus by demanding all her skill, intelligence, and attention.

Jillian Perry has been found dead in the woods, leaving behind a husband of three weeks and a young daughter. The police can’t determine how she died—her body shows no visible marks, and the autopsy reveals nothing suspicious—and the leading theory is that she purposely wandered into the forest and succumbed to the freezing weather. But something doesn’t feel right to Theresa, and she can’t let it go.

To complicate matters, a former boyfriend of Jillian’s unexpectedly petitions for custody of the daughter. Obsessed with Jillian, he also suspects foul play in Jillian’s death, and now he and Theresa believe Jillian’s daughter may be in danger of meeting a similar fate. With a child’s life at stake, Theresa must search for evidence of murder—evidence that doesn’t seem to exist—before it’s too late.

Looking for reviews for Evidence of Murder? Check out:

Toasted Cheese Literary Journal


Huffington Post

Il Libro PDX

Amazon Rating: 4.34 out of 5 stars based on 56 ratings

Rakuten Kobo Rating: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 3.68 out of 5 stars based on 1,249 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.26 out of 5 stars based on 35 ratings

Total Score 3.70   (updated 11/19/20)




Trail_of_Blood#3- Trail of Blood- 2003

Listed #103 out 121 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List

Listed #162 out of 168 on Goodreads Best Science Thriller Book List

First Line:

Fall had come early this year, and Theresa could see why people considered it the season of death.


Teresa MacLean, Frank Patrick, Chris Cavanaugh, Rachael MacLean, Leo DiCiccio and Oliver

James Miller: The identity of a 75 year old skeleton found in an abandoned building who was a detective when the Torso Murders were ongoing

The Setting

Cleveland, Ohio

Seventy-five years ago, a madman nicknamed the Torso Killer terrorized Cleveland. His horrific spree lasted four years and crisscrossed the entire city. Overall, he was credited with more than a dozen murders. And he was never caught.

Today, forensic scientist Theresa MacLean is called to an abandoned building where a desiccated, decapitated body has been found in a room that’s been sealed off for years. Although there’s no immediate proof, everyone assumes the same thing: that the newly discovered corpse was a Torso Killer victim. The body has decayed beyond recognition, leaving few forensic clues, but Theresa sees this as an opportunity to shed some light on a big piece of Cleveland’s past that until now has been shrouded in mystery.

But then another body—this one recently deceased—turns up, and all signs at the scene seem to indicate the work of a new Torso Killer. Suddenly, Theresa’s investigation takes on a whole new meaning. Her examination of the old body has opened a door to the past—a door someone wanted to keep closed—and she shifts her focus from solving a historical puzzle to catching a very dangerous, present-day psychopath.

But as the body count rises, Theresa finds herself nearer to danger than she ever imagined. For the killer is keeping a watchful eye on Theresa, and she begins to feel his presence everywhere. Each step brings them closer and closer to each other—at one point separated by no more than a speeding train in a railroad switchyard—as Theresa scours the city in her hunt for a murderous lunatic intent on reliving a terrifying past.

Theresa also failed to find a trail of blood from the tracks to the body, so it seemed unlikely that the killer decapitated the victim on the train.

Looking for reviews for Trail of Blood? Check out:

Kirkus Review

Amazon Rating: 4.32 out of 5 stars based on 69 ratings

Rakuten Kobo Rating: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 3.69 out of 5 stars based on 1,050 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.46 out of 5 stars based on 37 ratings

Total Score 3.72  (updated 11/19/20)




Defensive_Wounds#4- Defensive Wounds- 2011

First Line:

The first volley came in the form of a text message.


Teresa MacLean, Frank Patrick, Rachael MacLean, Leo DiCiccio and Oliver

Marie Corrigan: A defense lawyer that has made a number of enemies and is the murder victim

The Setting

Cleveland, Ohio

In this fourth novel in Lisa Black’s captivating suspense series, forensic investigator Theresa MacLean finds herself embroiled in a case in which everyone has a motive and everyone is a suspect—especially when high-powered defense attorneys start turning up dead.

When Marie Corrigan, a Cleveland defense attorney with a history of falsifying evidence and no shortage of enemies, is found dead in the presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton, most people would agree that she had it coming. Forensic investigator Theresa MacLean is summoned to the crime scene by her daughter, Rachel, who is working the front desk. But even before Theresa enters the room, she knows that she’s walking into a forensic nightmare—for crime scenes at hotels, even the most luxurious, are teeming with trace evidence that has been left behind by innumerable guests and may or may not be related to the murder. But what Theresa finds is even worse than she imagined.

Given the positioning of Marie’s body, everyone assumes the same thing—that it’s a lovers’ tryst turned lethal. But large questions remain: How did the killer gain access to the room without anyone’s knowledge? And has the scene been staged for their benefit? The little evidence Theresa has is conflicting at best. What’s more, a legal convention at the hotel provides an endless list of suspects—and potential victims.

When two more bodies show up in quick succession, each in a similar state, Theresa’s investigation takes on a whole new urgency as she fears they may have a serial killer on their hands—a serial killer with a vendetta. But as she searches for the threads that tie the cases together, Theresa begins to suspect that she and her daughter are closer to danger than they realize. And a mother will stop at nothing to protect the life of her child.

No other injuries or bruises had come to light, no defensive wounds on the small hands. Theresa saw nothing new, and the diener began to wash away anything that might have remained.

Looking for reviews for Defensive Wounds? Check out:

Fresh Fiction

Once Upon A Romance

You’re History!

Amazon Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars based on 61 ratings

Rakuten Kobo Rating: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 3.53 out of 5 stars based on 1,107 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.45 out of 5 stars based on 52 ratings

Total Score 3.54  (updated 11/19/20)




Blunt_Impact#5- Blunt Impact- 2013

First Line:

The dew had barely settled on the body when Theresa approached the site, camera and basic crime-scene kit in hand.


Teresa MacLean, Frank Patrick, Rachael MacLean, Leo DiCiccio, and Oliver

The Setting

Cleveland, Ohio

Forensic scientist Theresa MacLean is puzzled by the questionable death of a female construction worker at a Cleveland building site. A witness to the death – a young girl nicknamed Ghost – may be able to help. Ghost says the woman was pushed by someone she can only identify as the Shadow Man. Soon Theresa finds herself in a race against time to protect Ghost from an unknown killer before he is able to find the little girl and silence her for good.

Looking for reviews for Blunt Impact? Check out:

Promoting Crime Fiction

Auntie M Writes Mystery

Amazon Rating: 4.06 out of 5 stars based on 27 ratings

Rakuten Kobo Rating: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 3.67 out of 5 stars based on 554 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.25 out of 5 stars based on 14 ratings

Total Score 3.68  (updated 11/19/20) 




Price_of_Innocense#6- Price of Innocence- 2013

First Line:

In the ten minutes before the building blew up, Theresa MacLean packed her camera in its padded bag, peeled off her latex gloves and noted ‘App S-GSW’ on her crime scene check list.


Teresa MacLean, Frank Patrick, Rachael MacLean, Leo DiCiccio, and Oliver

The Setting

Cleveland, Ohio

Called out to investigate a suspected suicide in a luxury high-rise apartment, forensic scientist Theresa MacLean only just escapes with her life when the building is blown to smithereens. An accident – or something more sinister? A mostly empty block of trendy apartments in downtown Cleveland seems an unlikely terrorist target.

Looking for reviews for Price of Innocence? Check out:

Kirkus Review

The Big Thrill

Amazon Rating: 4.48 out of 5 stars based on 18 ratings

Rakuten Kobo Rating: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 3.70 out of 5 stars based on 360 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.46 out of 5 stars based on 13 ratings

Total Score 3.73  (updated 11/19/20)



Close_to_the_bone#7-Close to the Bone-2014

Listed #76 out of 121 on Goodreads Forensic Fiction Book List

My Review of Close to the Bone

First Line:

The blood didn’t worry her, not at first.


Teresa MacLean and Oliver

Don Delgado: DNA analyst

L. Shephard: Homicide detective

Diana Allman: Murdered CFU member

Darryl Johnson: Murdered front desk clerk

Dr. Hurbert Reese: Pathologist

Dr. Elliot Stone: Director of the CFU

Mitchell Causer: Diener

The Setting

Cleveland, Ohio

Forensic scientist Theresa MacLean stumbles across a murder rather too close for comfort when she returns to the Medical Examiner s office following a late-night call to find one deskman missing and the other beaten to death. Written in blood above the dead man s head is a single word: Confess .

It’s the first time a homicide has taken place actually within the ME s office. Medical Examiner Stone works on how to spin the news while Theresa works the scene.

When a second victim is discovered, Theresa uncovers a link to the death of another co-worker, records secretary Diane Allman, who was murdered in her own home ten years before. As she painstakingly pieces the clues together, Theresa realizes that she has become an integral part of a ruthless killer s murderous agenda. And if she is to survive, she must find out what really happened to Diane all those years ago.

Looking for reviews for Close to the Bone? Check out:

Phil Jason Reviews Books

Murder is Everywhere

The Big Thrill

Amazon Rating: 4.23 out of 5 stars based on 43 ratings

Rakuten Kobo Rating: not rated

GoodReads Rating: 3.67 out of 5 stars based on 439 ratings

Library Thing Rating: 3.54 out of 5 stars based on 12 rating

Total Score 3.71  (updated 11/19/20)


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