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Guest Blogger: Lisa Black: Everything Old Is New Again

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

My character, Cleveland forensic specialist Maggie Gardner, is unrealistic in one respect—she still spends a lot of time at her microscope looking at tiny bits of trace evidence, hairs, fibers, paint, and glass.

No one does that any more. Well, maybe Abby on NCIS, but she’s the most unrealistic forensic person on screen, even though she’s so cute we don’t care.

Sure, on old episodes of Dragnet you can see some nerdy guy in a lab coat explain how these pollen spores are only found in one quadrant of the city, but that art had already died before I started in forensics in 1994. We got spoiled by DNA, by ‘absolutely yes’ or ‘absolutely no’ answers. No one wanted to hear that this red nylon was ‘consistent with’ the suspect’s shirt, because they wouldn’t be hearing how many red nylon shirts were manufactured, how many were sold in this area, and while we’re at it let’s hack into Macy’s sales figures and find out who they were sold to. Unlike television, forensic labs do not have databases of all this information and would probably be violating a few important laws if they did. Nope, ‘consistent with’ was all you got. Take it or leave it.

 

Polyurethane_Fibers

POLYURETHANE FIBERS

They left it. Microscopic analysis became more or less a thing of the past. Forensic techs today wouldn’t recognize a pollen spore or know what to do with it if they did. Fibers are ignored. Hairs are examined only to screen out candidates for, well, DNA.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I peruse the latest Journal of Forensic Sciences and stumble on an article about using something called palynological scanning to rapidly evaluate suspect and victim testimony.

 

pollen

POLLEN

Palynology, it turns out, is a fancy name for…pollen. Pollen and spores and other ‘microscopic entities’ of trees, shrubs and herbs. No hairs, fibers or paint, but you get the idea. This analysis proved useful in some cases of rape or assault, in situations where the victim and suspect both contacted the ground and pieces of the ambient flora could attach to their clothing.

 

trees

 

In one case the suspect said he and his victim engaged on a lawn behind a public building. The victim said he attacked in a heavily wooded area, the spot surrounded by beech, birch and sycamore trees. Each site had a distinct mix of items—palynomorphs– with complicated Latin names. The suspect didn’t deny that he had made contact with the victim so willingly gave up the clothing he’d been wearing at the time, and sure enough, all those little palynomorphs indicated that he had been in the woods and not on the lawn. This did not prove that he had committed the crime. It only proved that he had lied about the sequence of events, and that was sufficient to prompt a confession. Otherwise this case would have languished in an eternal hell of ‘he said vs. she said.’

Of course had this guy listened to legal counsel before he made a statement, he probably would have figured out to come up with an alternative, and innocent, reason to have been rolling on the ground near the crime scene, and all these spores would have been for naught. As it is, surely the defense will bring out statistics regarding the vast number of beech and sycamore trees in the area, perhaps in the suspect’s own neighborhood, and the idea that maybe he had been doing some gardening earlier in the week in that same pair of pants. This is why things like pollen analysis fell out of favor with the courts…but the spores are still out there, voluminous, distinct and quite concrete little buggers that will stick in all sorts of places one might wish they wouldn’t. So are hairs, fibers, and paint. Maybe ‘consistent with’ is all you can get out of them. But maybe, sometimes, that’s enough.

So in my books Maggie still looks at all this stuff because it’s more visible and visceral than yet one more DNA sample. Let’s face it—you’ve seen one cotton swab, you’ve seen them all. Bright clothing fibers are much more entertaining.

And this trace evidence will lead her down a number of roads—some of which, it turns out, she’d be better off avoiding.

Wiltshire et al. “A Rapid and Efficient Method for Evaluation of Suspect Testimony: Palynological Screening.” Journal of Forensic Sciences, Vol. 60, #6, Nov 2015, pp 1441-1450.

 

L Black

Lisa Black has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

Lisa’s Website: http://www.lisa-black.com

 

that darkness cover

 

Hello! Just a quick note to let you know that my new book, That Darkness, is now available wherever books are sold!

It seemed like a typical week for crime scene specialist Maggie Gardiner–a gang boss shot in an alley, a lost girl draped over an ancient grave, a human trafficker dumped in the river–nothing all that out of the ordinary for the Cleveland police department as spring turns toward summer along the Erie banks. The methods are usual, the victims unsurprising–but when she notices a pattern, a tenuous similarity among the cases, she begins to realize that her days will never be typical again. How much of her life, her career, her friends, will she be willing to risk to do what’s right?

Jack Renner is a killer who does not kill for any of the conventional reasons…no mania, no personal demons. He simply wants to make the world a safer place. He doesn’t think of himself as a dangerous person–but he can’t let anyone stop him. Not even someone as well-meaning as Maggie Gardiner.

Maggie has the self-sufficiency of a born bit-of-a-loner. She works with a bevy of clever experts surrounded by armed police officers. She is both street smart and book smart, having seen the worst the city has to offer.

But Maggie Gardiner is not safe. And, until she can draw Jack Renner into the light, neither is anyone else.

Jeff Lindsay, author of the Dexter series, says: “Lisa Black always delivers authentic characters in riveting stories. That Darkness takes things to a spellbinding new level with a taut and haunting story that will stay with you long after you finish reading it.”

Publisher’s Weekly says: “The intriguing forensic details help drive the plot to its satisfying conclusion.”

“Black is one of the best writers of the world of forensics, and her latest introduces Maggie Gardiner, who works for the Cleveland Police Department. Her relentless pursuit of answers in a dark world of violence is both inspiring and riveting. Readers who enjoy insight into a world from an expert in the field should look no further than Black. Although Cornwell is better known, Black deserves more attention for her skillful writing – and hopefully this will be her breakout book.”– RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars (Top Pick)

 

2016 ITW Thriller Awards Nominees

 

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2016 ITW Thriller Awards Nominees 

 

We’re thrilled to announce the finalists for the 2016 ITW Thriller Awards:

 

BEST HARDCOVER NOVEL

Ian Caldwell – THE FIFTH GOSPEL (Simon & Schuster)

Tess Gerritsen – PLAYING WITH FIRE (Ballantine)

Paula Hawkins – THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (Riverhead Books)

David Morrell – INSPECTOR OF THE DEAD (Mulholland Books)

Karin Slaughter – PRETTY GIRLS (William Morrow)

 

BEST FIRST NOVEL

Sandra Block – LITTLE BLACK LIES (Grand Central)

LS Hawker – THE DROWNING GAME (Witness Impulse)

Gilly Macmillan – WHAT SHE KNEW (William Morrow)

Brian Panowich – BULL MOUNTAIN (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

Hester Young – THE GATES OF EVANGELINE (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

 

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL NOVEL

Marc Cameron – DAY ZERO (Pinnacle)

John Gilstrap – AGAINST ALL ENEMIES (Pinnacle)

Andrew Mayne – NAME OF THE DEVIL (Bourbon Street Books)

D.J. McIntosh – THE ANGEL OF EDEN (Penguin Canada)

Jean Rabe – POCKETS OF DARKNESS (WordFire Press)

 

BEST SHORT STORY

Reed Farrel Coleman – “Feeding the Crocodile” JEWISH NOIR (PM Press)

Jeffrey Deaver – “Repressed” (Diversion Books)

Sharon Hunt – “The Water Was Rising” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

Terrence McCauley – “El Cambalache” (Thuglit)

Joyce Carol Oates – “Gun Accident: An Investigation” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

 

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL

Alan Gratz – CODE OF HONOR (Scholastic Press)

Nicole Maggi – THE FORGETTING (Sourcebooks Fire)

Michelle Painchaud – PRETENDING TO BE ERICA (Viking Books for Young Readers)

Emily Ross – HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH (Merit Press)

Allan Stratton – THE DOGS (Sourcebooks Fire)

 

BEST E-BOOK ORIGINAL NOVEL

Diane Capri – JACK AND JOE (AugustBooks)

Chris Kuzneski – THE PRISONER’S GOLD (Chris Kuzneski)

Robert McClure – DEADLY LULLABY (Alibi)

Caitlin O’Connell – IVORY GHOSTS (Alibi)

Eric Rickstad – LIE IN WAIT (Witness Impulse)

 

Congratulations to all the finalists!

The 2016 ITW Thriller Award Winners will be announced at ThrillerFest XI, July 9, 2016, at the Grand Hyatt (New York City.)

Very special thanks to:

Joshua Corin, Awards Committee Chair

Jennifer Kreischer, Awards Coordinator

Suzanne Rorhus, Awards Coordinator

And all the 2016 ITW Thriller Awards Judges

Carla Buckley

ITW Board of Directors, Vice President, Awards

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2016 in Writing

 

ThrillerFest/CraftFest/Master CraftFest are coming July 5-9, 2016

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ThrillerFest is the premiere conference for thriller enthusiasts, bringing together fans, famous authors and new ones, industry professionals and agents. It’s a vibrant hub of literary networking and social interaction offering an opportunity for thriller lovers to meet and mingle with their favorite authors at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City every July. When we say mingle, we mean it. An array of impressive names, including Clive Cussler, Lee Child, James Patterson, Sandra Brown, Harlan Coben, David Baldacci, David Morrell, Ken Follett, R.L. Stine, and many more have been known to linger in the conference rooms and halls, accessible to attendees.

The ThrillerFest team is busy preparing for a memorable 2016 conference, hoping to make it the best yet. The conference consists of several events, priced separately and in money-saving packages. Those events are:

Today’s FBI: Crime Essentials For Writers

In this full day workshop held at FBI Headquarters, you’ll hear from FBI experts in Cybercrime, International Terrorism, Criminal Investigations, and more. Lunch, drinks, and snacks served. Class size is limited by the FBI and fills up quickly.

Master CraftFest

Don’t miss this opportunity to study with the Masters of the genre in a one-day intensive workshop to take your writing to the next level. Everyone is welcome, from beginning writers to well-established authors. The instructors this year will be Steve Berry, Grant Blackwood, David Corbett, Meg Gardiner, Heather Graham, Andrew Gross, Richard Krevolin, and Gayle Lynds. Class sizes are limited to provide a personal experience.

CraftFest

As always we have a group of talented teachers to broaden your knowledge about the craft of writing as well as experts in many fields like forensics and firearms so you can get the facts right in your novel.

PitchFest

Be sure to sign up for the incredible opportunity to further your writing career, as we’ll have over 50 agents, editors, and producers ready to hear your pitch at our annual PitchFest event. Visit www.thrillerfest.com and read the Success Stories from past years.

ThrillerFest

We’re planning some phenomenal panels, always trying to innovate and entertain. Join us for the spotlight interviews, cocktail parties, workshops, and fabulous networking opportunities. Please check the volunteer box during registration, as it’s a great way to make new friends.

Thriller Awards Banquet
A gala banquet and celebration tops off everything, with 2016 ThrillerMaster Heather Graham receiving her award, and the exciting announcement of the winners of the Thriller Awards!

Exhibitor/Vendor Tables
We’re offering exhibitor/vendor tables during the ThrillerFest event for non-bookselling vendors. If you’d like to promote your goods, services, or brand, it’s an excellent opportunity to reach many thriller enthusiasts.

Enter the Best First Sentence Contest for a chance to win a critique of 10 manuscript pages from one of our phenomenal Master CraftFest teachers.

More Info and Registration: http://thrillerfest.com

Follow us:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/International-Thriller-Writers-Organization-59208702261/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/thrillerwriters

Hope to see you all in New York

DP Lyle
ITW VP for Education
CraftFest/Master CraftFest/Thriller School Director

 
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Posted by on March 21, 2016 in Writing

 

FORENSICS FOR DUMMIES Release Day

FFD 300X378

 

Forensics For Dummies Updated 2nd Edition is now available.

Get it through your local Indie Bookstore or here:

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Forensics-Dummies-Douglas-P-Lyle/dp/1119181658

B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/forensics-for-dummies-douglas-p-lyle/1013991421

 

The Mockingbird Has Passed

Harper Lee

 

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about this injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn’t have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.

When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the Summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.

 

Thus begins one of the truly iconic American stories. A story everyone should read—-many times. I know I have.

And now Harper Lee is gone. As a fellow Alabamian, it feels as though I’ve lost a family member.

So long, Harper. You will be sorely missed.

 

Mockingbird

 
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Posted by on February 19, 2016 in Writing

 

Master CraftFest is Coming July 5th

Come To NY for the July 4th Fireworks

Stay for Master CraftFest!

Writers learn their craft throughout their careers.

Take your writing and storytelling ability to the next level at Master CraftFest.

 

Master CF copy

 

Join our stellar group of teachers on Tuesday July 5, 2016 at ITW’s Master CraftFest, a hands-on workshop for writers of all levels. It’s an intense but extremely helpful day. Each class, which is limited to 10 students, will allow you to work with a best-selling author not on generalities but on your manuscript in progress. You’ll be placed in a class based on an evaluation of a ten-page sample of your work, so everyone in the class will be at roughly the same level of writing ability. Pull your chair up close, settle in for the day, get to know your fellow students and instructor, and deal with those tough issues in your manuscript. Is screenwriting a hot topic for you? We’ve got you covered. You’ll finish the class inspired and eager, and you’ll have some great networking opportunities too.

Stay around for CraftFest and ThrillerFest to round out your experience surrounded by thriller fans and authors!

Sign Up Now: http://thrillerfest.com/master-craftfest/

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2016 in Writing

 

The Mystery Readers Journal Forensic Mysteries Issue is Out

2016 MRI Forensic Issue

 

The Mystery Readers Journal Forensic Mysteries Issue is out and it’s excellent. Filled with wonderful and informative articles by some really fun folks. Janet always does such a wonderful job and this issue is a testament to that.

If you don’t belong to Mystery Readers International, you should.

Details and links to join are here: http://mysteryreaders.org

Here is my contribution:

THE QUESTION I GET

Every writer knows that creating an engaging and believable story is the primary goal of fiction writing. Taking readers into the story world and holding them there isn’t all that easy. And making basic errors in fact can all too often snap the reader right out of the story. A writer’s job is to make sure that doesn’t happen.

I have been consulting with authors and screenwriters on medical and forensic science story issues for the last 20 years and over that time have answered around 6000 questions. I am constantly amazed by the creative mind of an author. This is particularly true in the crime fiction and thriller genres. Equally impressive to me is that these are the authors who do the research, who try to get it right.

So, what are the most common things that I get asked? Poisons and rendering someone unconscious for varying periods of time are near the top of the list.

Many great murder mysteries, past and current, deal with poisons. Why not? They’re excellent tools for fictional murder. They require no physical confrontation and can even be set up so that the deed occurs days, weeks, or months later, when the perpetrator is far away. Clean and simple. No mess to clean up.

But poisons do possess limitations. Let me dispel one myth right up front—-there are no untraceable poisons. It might not be found but if it is looked for diligently enough and with the available sophisticated techniques, it will be found. Common poisons such as narcotics, amphetamines, barbiturates, and sedatives of various types are part of virtually every drug screen and therefore are easily found by the toxicologist. Others such as plant toxins, and many unusual chemicals, are more difficult. These require that the medical examiner and the forensic toxicologist have a high “index of suspicion” that a particular toxin is involved before taking the time and expense required to uncover it. These suspicions are often aroused by the symptoms that surround the victim’s death.

Often, for plot reasons, the author would like for the victim to receive the toxin but not have any symptoms until the next day and then suffer a quick and dramatic death. The problem? Poisons don’t have timers. Those that kill quickly and dramatically do so quickly and dramatically. Right here and right now. Not tomorrow, or next week. There are of course toxins that require several days to work their mischief but the victim almost invariably will become ill and spiral toward death over a period of time not suddenly collapse on cue.

In other scenarios, the author needs for a character to be struck in the head and to remain unconscious for an extended period of time. You’ve seen it before. The character is whacked on the head, placed in the trunk of a car, taken to some remote hideaway, remains unconscious for hours, and finally awakens when someone throws water in her face. Hollywood has been doing this for years. Unfortunately, medical science dictates that this is extremely unlikely. A blow to the head that causes unconsciousness but without significant brain damage is called a concussion. Boxers face this with every bout. The key here is that there is no significant brain damage in a simple, single concussion. The victim might go out but usually awakens very quickly and certainly by 10 or 15 minutes. Think about that boxer. He gets knocked unconscious and two minutes later he’s complaining that he was struck with a lucky punch. In order for the victim to remain unconscious for hours, there must be some degree of brain injury. A cerebral contusion (brain bruise) or an intracranial hemorrhage (bleeding into or around the brain) are two situations where unconsciousness can last for hours, days, or much longer. But here, the victim is truly injured and typically requires medical treatment in short order. A simple splash of water won’t do it.

So as you sit at your desk pounding out your next story, don’t assume that what you believe to be true is indeed true. This is particularly problematic if you don’t have a scientific background or if you get your understanding of science from television. Do your research. Seek out credible sources, Ask questions. Never underestimate the power of the word author. People like to talk about what they know so give them the opportunity.

Regardless of how you do it, get the facts right. That’s your job. And your readers will greatly appreciate it.

 
 
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