Monday, March 8, 2010

Crime Fiction Alphabet: U is for Unger, Lisa

Continuing the fun series started by fellow Anzac book blogger Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, where each week bloggers from around the world write about a notable crime fiction novel or author (first name or surname) starting with a particular letter of the alphabet, this week is the turn of "U".

This might be a suprisingly tricky week for our merry band of book bloggers, even though it's a vowel letter, and it would seem there are plenty of words that start with "U" (but how many are common in crime fiction titles). For my own post, I have decided to take a short look at an author I haven't read yet, but has been on my 'to read' list: Florida-based New York Times bestselling crime writer Lisa Unger.

Lisa Unger (1970 - )
Unger was born in the northeast of the United States, in New Haven, Connecticut - but her childhood was somewhat transient, and she grew up (as Lisa Miscione) in the Netherlands, England, and New Jersey.

She attended a liberal arts college, the New School for Social Research, in New York City, and then spent many years living and working in the 'Big Apple'. Her initial career was in the publishing field - she eventually became an associate director of publicity for Penguin Putnam - before she left NYC and moved with her husband to Clearwater, Florida, to become a full-time writer.

Unger began writing thrillers under the name Lisa Miscione, and her debut, ANGEL FIRE, was published in 2002. This book introduced her initial recurring hero, true crime writer and intuitive investigative consultant Lydia Strong, and sparked a four-book series.

The publisher's blurb for ANGEL FIRE states: "The bloody murder of her mother when she was a teenager made Lydia Strong into a woman obsessed with bringing brutal killers to justice. Now thirty years old, she is a reclusive bestselling true crime writer and investigative consultant whose intuitions never lie. The latest case to capture her attention is the disappearance of three adults, each the kind of loner whose sudden absence isn't missed-they have no family, few friends. The Santa Fe Police don't see a pattern, just three people who left their empty lives behind. But when another woman turns up missing, her apartment streaked with blood, even the police have to admit that something is wrong in their usually quiet town. Lydia and P.I. Jeffrey Mark, the ex-FBI agent who solved her mother's murder, begin a relentless investigation. But it is only when the killer ups the ante and goes after Lydia herself that, just like fifteen years ago when she put the FBI on the trail of her mother's killer, the real hunt begins..."

Since the publication of ANGEL FIRE in 2002, Unger/Miscione has published a book a year; first three further 'Strong' thrillers under the name Lisa Miscione, and then four more thrillers under her married name Unger.

The first 'Unger' book, BEAUTIFUL LIES (2006), introduced a new main character, Ridley Jones, a freelance writer whose life changes when she rescues a toddler who wanders into traffic. Her heroic act delights a city of cynical New Yorkers and leads to weeks of newspaper and TV publicity. While enjoying her 15 minutes of fame, Ridley receives a strange message from someone claiming to be her father--but she already has a father. Her parents dismiss the note as the work of a crackpot, but Ridley senses they are lying. Perhaps the only one who knows the truth is her brother, Ace, estranged from the family as a result of his drug addiction. Just as Ridley starts to investigate her own past, she meets Jake, a handsome new neighbor who quickly becomes involved in her quest. When it turns out Jake might be connected to her investigation, Ridley feels betrayed-- is he using her?

Beautiful Lies was selected as an International Book of the Month, and was chosen (in 21st place) in the top 50 "Best Books of 2006" by the editors of It was also a finalist for the International Thriller Writers Best Novel Award. You can read an excerpt from BEAUTIFUL LIES (the prologue and first chapter) here.

Ridley Jones returned in the 2007 novel SLIVER OF TRUTH, before Unger released a standalone, BLACK OUT, which won the Silver Medal for popular fiction in the 2008 Florida Book Awards and was a finalist in the 2009 Prix Polar International award. According to Unger's website, it was also optioned for a film adaptation by Austin Chick (Before The Devil Knows You're Dead), Barbara DeFina (Goodfellas, Cape Fear, Color of Money) and Andrew Kletjian.

The blurb for BLACK OUT says, "On the surface, Annie Powers' life in a wealthy Floridian suburb is happy and idyllic. Her husband, Gray, loves her fiercely; together, they dote on their beautiful young daughter, Victory. But the bubble surrounding Annie is pierced when she senses that the demons from an ugly past are gaining on her quickly, triggering frightening-and unwanted - memories of someone she used to be. A lifetime ago Annie was Ophelia March, a young girl who fled a troubled home only to find herself in the thrall of a killer-someone who Annie thought she'd left far behind. After a series of disturbing events-the appearance of a familiar dark figure on the beach and a mysterious man asking too many questions -Annie realizes she must piece together her fractured memory to finally make sense of who she was and who she is and, ultimately, to save herself and her daughter."

You can read an excerpt from BLACK OUT here.

Unger followed BLACK OUT up with another standalone, DIE FOR YOU (2009), which she says on her website was inspired by five weeks spent in Prague during the summer of 2007. "I went for a vacation with my family, intending to take some time off between books," she says. "But I was so inspired by that magnificent city, that the pages just started flowing. I had this sense of Prague as a city of secrets, a place of great beauty but with a dark past. And it was that vibe that inspired DIE FOR YOU."

In DIE FOR YOU, Isabel Connelly is a bestselling novelist, and with her loving husband, Marcus Raine, a computer game designer, she has it all, including an elegant prewar apartment on Manhattan's Upper West Side. When Marcus doesn't come home one night, Isabel goes to his office, where she's confronted by a dozen people with weapons drawn. Det. Grady Crowe later informs Isabel that not only is her husband missing but he's been lying about his past, having stolen the real Marcus Raine's identity years earlier. Despite a text from Marcus urging her to forget about him, Isabel vows to track him down.

At a glance, a recurring theme in Unger's books seems to be a strong female lead (often a writer), trying to find the hidden truth of what is happening in the world around her. Like Linwood Barclay, some of Harlan Coben's books, and the more recent Gregg Hurwitz thrillers, it seems Unger leans towards 'domestic suspense'. Her bestselling books have now been published in more than 20 countries.

Unger now continues to live in Florida with her husband and daughter. He next book, FRAGILE, is due out in August 2010.


  1. Craig- Thanks for this look at Lisa Unger. I confess, I haven't read her work, either, but you've intrigued me. I shall have to repair that gap.

  2. I hadn't realised Lisa Unger was also published as Miscione Craig. Thanks for that. I have enjoyed the 2 Unger books I have read

  3. The Miscione books aren't actually mentioned on her new website, which seems a little strange - but perhaps they aren't in print anymore?