There I was swashbuckling my way through a meet and greet at the Florida Authors & Publishers Annual Convention when up walks bestselling author Lisa Black. She was a featured presenter at the convention, a whirlwind weekend in Orlando that culminated with the FAPA President’s Awards. Black had her brand new thriller Suffer the Children in tow and handed me an advance reader’s edition for a sneak peek into the world of Gardiner and Renner.
I love a book with a death in Chapter 1, and Suffer the Children did not disappoint! The story opens with recurring protagonist Maggie Gardiner, a forensic scientist, investigating an incident at the Firebird Center for Children and Adolescents. It seems a teenager took an unfortunate header down a stairwell. What appears to be a death by misadventure, of course, is nothing of the sort.
As Gardiner does her grisly work, readers are regaled with the details, frustrations, and minutiae of an investigation. Black’s straightforward style never feels “textbook-y” or stale as she reveals techniques and takes the occasional jab at TV crime show assumptions. Since Black has actual experience in the field, readers get a realistic look at the process.
The narrative progresses into a compelling whodunit peppered with the requisite red herrings and surprises as the Grim Reaper seems to have set up shop at the delinquency center. But it’s the subtext in the book that really caught my attention. Black did her homework, providing a smoothly woven treatise on the social conundrum of rehabilitation vs. incarceration for youthful offenders. We see the issue through the protagonist’s eyes, who dissects the multiple perspectives on “what we can do to help/cure/love/protect/hold/punish/control these kids” with the surehanded precision of a scalpel. Black presents evidence of a systemic dilemma and allows her readers to draw their own conclusions. What’s more, she manages this without moralistic bleed-through. That’s darn good writing, friends!
Readers also get to ride along with Maggie Gardiner as she navigates her personal life, which is inexorably tangled with her professional duties. Black toys with a love triangle fraught with enough ethical murkiness to risk careers and more. This creates additional tension in the novel and provides an impetus for further Gardiner and Renner adventures.
Suffer the Children is slated to become available in a couple of weeks! This is my first Lisa Black novel, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Rocky Rates It
5/5 ★★★★★ for unexpected depth in a thriller