Locard Institute Book 1
July 26th, 2022
Red Flags by Lisa Black combines a clever mystery with a forensic thriller. This first in the series introduces Dr. Ellie Carr, part of the FBI’s evidence response team, with Dr. Rachel Davies, a pathologist at the private forensics’ lab, Locard Institute. Having a forensic background herself, the author Black weaves her own professional experience into the plot, making it a realistic story.
“As a forensic scientist at the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office, I have analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood, and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now I am a latent print examiner and certified crime analyst for the Cape Coral Police Department in Florida, working mostly with fingerprints and crime scenes. Some organizations I belong to are the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the International Association for Identification, and the International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts. I know what happens at a crime scene, what realistically would happen. The police officer, the detective, the forensic personal, and the pathologist, each have a distinct skill. The FBI does cooperate with the local police, but there are jurisdictional issues.”
Dr. Ellie Carr is called to investigate the vanishing of 4-month-old Mason Carlisle, who disappeared without a trace. The baby’s dad, Hunter, owns a lobbying firm, while the mother, Rebecca is a policy adviser to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Ellie cannot believe it when she discovers that Rebecca is a cousin whom she was close with as a child but has not seen in more than fifteen years. Thinking that she should recuse herself, Ellie finds out that she is staying on the case. By leaving her in an official capacity she wonders if the FBI wants her to be a spy or a scapegoat since Rebecca and Hunter are suspects.
“Rachael is a lot more stable than Ellie. After her sister died, she and her mother are raising her 2-year-old nephew. Her life outside of her family is the Locard Institute. She is an observer, confidant, patient, tries to keep a neutral face, and smoother than Ellie in working with people. Ellie is a crime scene specialist. But in this case, she finds out that part of this very wealthy family includes her cousin with whom she lived for a time when she was young. They were as close as sisters. She is very much at loose ends. After her mother died, she lived with her grandmother, then an aunt/uncle with some cousins, and was moved to other aunts/uncles. She was always loved and well cared for, but a lot of moving around for a child, forcing her to act like a guest. Now she is recently divorced with her ex-husband as her boss. Ellie is detailed, does not like to make waves, and is not pushy. She tries to make herself invincible, not front and center.”
To make matters worse, Hunter decides to have Dr. Rachael Davies, a pathologist with the Locard Institute join in the investigation. At first, Rachael and Ellie were standoffish towards each other, but slowly a friendship develops as they begin to rely on each other. After the parents of Hunter’s co-workers also have their children kidnapped it becomes a race against time to bring back the children alive. It seems that the Carlisles’ professions and their involvement in a gaming industry become the clues from which Rachael and Ellie begin to unwind the investigation.
“I thought how anyone can say anything on the Internet. A pedophile can be in a chat room pretending to be a fourteen-year-old. This is every mother’s worst nightmare. Now it is required for a parent to put all this personal information in so their child can play a game. I thought what is happening to all this information. Is it being data mined or is your child being targeted by advertising? Games are designed to keep children playing, literally addicting bordering on psychological manipulation. Children can buy accessories within this game like weapons or costumes. Actor Jack Black’s eight-year-old son ran up $7,000. The game itself is free, but it’s the in-app purchases that make the money. There are congressional hearings that try to come up with new regulations.”
As the pages are turned the tension rises. The investigation is interesting and the detail about forensics is a bonus. The twists offer different red herrings to keep readers guessing.