Thursday, March 7, 2013

Guest Post - Lisa Black

Lisa Black is the creator of the forensic scientist Theresa MacLean mysteries.  As a forensic scientist herself, Lisa says murder is her day job and that she spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue.  In the Cleveland coroner’s office, she 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 she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI for the Cape Coral Police Department. Her books have been translated into six languages and Evidence of Murder reached the New York Times mass market bestseller’s list.

In Lisa's new book Blunt Impact, available April 1, Theresa faces a series of murders surrounding a skyscraper under construction in downtown Cleveland. The first to die is a young, sexy concrete worker, thrown from the 23rd floor. The only witness is her 11 year old daughter Anna, nicknamed Ghost. Ghost will stop at nothing to find her mother’s killer, and Theresa will stop at nothing to keep Ghost safe.

Lisa has also written a historical thriller Trail of Blood set in Cleveland after the Great Depression. In this guest blog she indulges her interest in history with a trip to the European battlefields of World War II.  

Over to Lisa:

My husband and I were married 25 years this past June. To celebrate, I decided to take some of my book-writing profits and treat my History Channel-obsessed spouse to a tour of WWII battlefields. Which, yes, is rather an interesting commentary on our married life.

We flew into Paris and met up with the tour group, a single busload of 37 interesting, intelligent adults. Determined to see the Eiffel Tower after dinner, I ignored jet lag and we jumped on the subway. Unfortunately only one of the lifts is working to take you to the 3rd level (from there to the top) so we were in line for at least 2 hours and were sweating it out as to if we’d even make it because they close at 12:45. And it started to rain…but we made it to the top which is, of course, something you just have to do when in Paris. Since we live in an extremely low-crime ‘burb I felt a bit nervous about getting on the subway at 12:30 at night, but it might as well have been 5 in the afternoon. Because many places are closed Monday I wonder if Sunday night is like their Saturday night. We would learn the hard way that in France stores are only permitted to be open 40 hours per week so they all close by 6 or 6:30, about exactly the time we would return from our touring, causing a problem if you needed to purchase anything…such as raincoats, since I packed for Italy when I should have packed for London…still can’t believe I made such a blunder! The skies could be sunny one minute, pouring bucketfuls ten minutes later, and sunny again ten minutes after that.

Americans are well-liked in Normandy, at least during the D-Day anniversary celebrations. The towns still know which units from which countries liberated their areas. All the veterans who fought in it come back (in uniform) and people stop them in the street to take their picture with them, from teenagers to current military, and listen to their stories. Current military participate in reenactments by dressing in (often US) uniforms. There are jeeps and motorcycles all over, decked out with period-appropriate equipment. We had 3 veterans of D-Day with us, two were paratroopers and one was a pilot, and everyone treated them like royalty. They would get on the microphone on the bus once in a while and tell us their stories, especially Charlie, who at 90 is quite a character; he went to law school with a 9th grade education and has an eye for blondes.

I had known that the D-Day invasion was a tough battle and an important one, had never grasped the scope of it until then. It was a massive, technically incredible campaign. In three days they built an entire harbor (code name “Mulberry”) with a seawall, docks and floating piers that could support trucks and tanks. British came by gliders and Americans sent paratroopers to secure the bridges so that the enemy forces couldn’t get to the beaches to defend them, but we would still have the bridges to move inland.

The American Cemetery at Omaha Beach is as beautiful as it looks in photos. The tour guide is acquainted with the director and arranged with him that our veterans, as well as some other D-Day vets including two tiny French nurses helped lower the flag and then fold it.

The next day we saw the train car (actually the sister car) where the Germans signed the surrender to France at the end of WWI, and where Hitler delighted to make the French sign the surrender in 1940. He then towed the train car to Berlin, put it on display, and burned it.

On the way to Belgium we saw a WWI Ossuary in Verdun, a huge monument, crypt and cemetery of both German and French soldiers. The lower level of the building contains the bones of 130,000 unidentified soldiers. A beautiful but sad building. 

From there we went to Bastogne with the barracks which were the headquarters of General McCauliffe, who said “Nuts!” when the Germans asked for his surrender. We had a local tour guide named Henri who was 9 when the Germans occupied Bastogne. He said at first his home was full of the Weirmacht, the regular German Army, and it was not pleasant but tolerable. They slaughtered all the cattle to feed themselves but let the family eat their fill as well. But then the SS #1 Panzer division came and the Weirmacht, who hated the young, arrogant and cruel SS, warned the townspeople to keep as far away from the SS as they possibly could.

Then we moved on to Germany; it was my first time there despite my ancestry (German/Bohemian), and it was gorgeous, all trees and hills and small cute towns. In Nuremburg, saw the courtroom where the War Trials were held. I highly recommend the very modern museum at the Documentation Center which went over the trials, the well- and lesser- known players, original footage, etc.  From there we went past Munich, a beautiful city; according to our guide, people in the state of Bavaria still very much think they're Bavarians first, Europeans second and Germans third, and the flag, we were instructed, is white and blue, not blue and white. 

The weather turned appropriately horrible when we visited Dachau. It was a work/concentration camp for 12 years, and as the war wore on the circumstances got progressively worse. But it was not an extermination camp, exactly—when they wanted to get rid of people who couldn’t work any more they shipped them to Auschwitz. But they did have crematoriums because thousands of people died there from overwork and malnutrition. They had a gas chamber which was supposedly never used, or possibly used only for experimentation. The barracks were used as a refugee camp after the war, and the refugees, naturally, made them more comfortable.  So when the preservation society bought the property they tore all the barracks down rather than have them be inaccurate, then rebuilt one as a replica. The crematories and attached gas chamber were intact, as apparently the Americans had immediately closed them off and would not allow them to be altered.   

On our final day we visited the Eagle’s Nest, the chateau near the Austrian border built as a surprise birthday gift for Hitler. It’s 6,000 feet above sea level, accessible only by a somewhat harrowing bus ride and you walk through a tunnel into the mountain to travel the last 400 straight up in a huge brass elevator that can hold 40 people. The chateau is not large—only six rooms—and features a huge marble fireplace, a present from Mussolini. Hitler, of course, very rarely went there since he was afraid of heights.The sun porch seen in old footage is now an educational display. Even in June it was cold, snow-covered, foggy and breathtaking.

Not, perhaps, the most conventional or romantic anniversary vacation, but fascinating. In a short time there will be no one left who actually remembers the time; eventually the marvel that was the D-Day invasion will have no more significance than Alexander’s capture of Babylon. And perhaps that’s the way it should be. Life moves on. But I’m grateful for the chance to see these places up close…and while my knees could still make it up the hills!

You can find out more about Lisa Black and her books at


  1. Last summer, I visited friends in Munich. He's a former US fighter pilot who served three tours in Vietnam and she's a German who survived WWII. They know their city well and showed me why Bavaria is easy to love.

    When we were in Dachau he told me he no longer liked going there. I asked why and he said that his father was a US soldier stationed in Germany after WWII and had first taken him to Dachau in the late 40s. He'd been back many times, but said that much of what had moved him was now gone.

    As you pointed out, the barracks were no more, nor were the mounds of hair, eyeglasses, and other personal effects that once occupied the exhibit rooms. They'd been replaced by banners bearing descriptions of what had stood there before. For him, a visit today failed to replicate the emotional intensity of his past visits, and he preferred to remember the latter.

    I can't imagine how he must have felt seeing Dachau in those times, for I was deeply moved by what I'd just seen, as I can tell were you. Thanks for sharing, Cara.

  2. So hard to know what should be remembered and what should be forgotten. I think that's the point Lisa makes at the end. We need to move on, but we must try not to forget the lessons and repeat...

  3. Frankly, Michael, my visit to Bavaria led me to admire the way Germany has addressed the past. And I couldn't agree with Cara more in the part about her knees:)

  4. Hi Lisa,

    Your piece so caught my thoughts that I went back this morning to read it again and realized that I'd called you Cara. I know you're Lisa, but my fingers didn't get the message. They saw Black and instinctively typed Cara. Had they seen Lisa they might have typed Brackmann. I've got to train them better. I apologize, LISA.

  5. I was kind of wondering...but Cara is a pretty name so I don't mind!!