THE FAMILY TREE
STEPH MULLIN & NICOLE MABRY
The DNA results are back. And there’s a serial killer in her family tree…
Liz Catalano is shocked when an ancestry kit reveals she’s adopted. But she could never have imagined connecting with her unknown family would plunge her into an FBI investigation of a notorious serial killer…
The Tri-State Killer has been abducting pairs of women for forty years, leaving no clues behind – only bodies.
Can Liz figure out who the killer in her new family is? And can she save his newest victims before it’s too late?
A gripping, original thriller for fans of My Lovely Wife, Netflix’s Making a Murderer, and anyone who’s ever wondered what their family tree might be hiding…
MY REVIEW ****
As a fan of True Crime I was excited to receive the ARC for The Family Tree. The book is actually written by two authors which is very unusual but it isn’t noticeable at all within the prose – there’s a strong and consistent narrative voice and I’d be really interested to learn more about their writing process.
The book alternates perspectives between Liz who wants to find out the truth about her biological family and victims of the Tri-State Killer who are abducted in pairs. The victim chapters are really creepy and engaging - we only get one chapter per pairing and it was great to see a throwback to other victims mentioned as the killer changed his MO based on previous mistakes or they found a remnant of one of the previous girls. We started off getting flashbacks of them being abducted, then this moved to their capture and then some of the last chapters had how he dealt with them at the very end. These chapters were very moving but also a great way to keep the pace and the tension high as well as dropping a few hints about who the killer could be as the story moved along. Even though you knew that these crimes took place a long time in the past you still found yourself routing for the girls in the flashbacks.
The plot did keep me guessing and the end reveal did honestly surprise me which was nice. There are enough hints as to make a few people viable suspects and I enjoyed being kept off-balance. I also really liked the twist at the end although I would have liked it to have been someone that we already knew - my guess was going to be either Michael, one of our ruled-out suspects or someone related to her biological father and any of these would have been a really good twist to the story! There are a couple of things that after the ending of the book no longer make sense with hindsight that were just used to cast doubt on some of the characters.
My main issue with the book was the main character Liz, who came across more as a stroppy teenage girl in places than a woman in her late 20s. She is very self-centred and irritating, yelling at everyone and using the excuse ‘I’ve just found out I’ve been adopted’ for all of her bad behaviour and anger issues. She also makes some truly awful decisions which made me so frustrated with her I had to put my Kindle down in places. Some of the choices that she made (particularly talking to the reporter, not disclosing things to the FBI and heading off to the final destination on her own) were not only stupid decisions that put her life in danger but also things that could have really impacted the investigation and may have meant they wouldn’t have been able to convict the criminal when the case went to trial.
My only other small point on this book is that it is very much inspired and based on the true crime story of The Golden State Killer which is one of the most famous American crime stories and is currently in the news as the trial has just finished. For anyone who doesn’t know, the Golden State Killer had been committing murders and burglaries since 1973 and was recently caught due to an unknowing relative uploading their 23andMe DNA results to law enforcers via GEDMatch. There are other similarities in the stories such as the acronym for the killer and the feisty female reporter who had committed her life to solving the mystery (much like the real-life Michelle McNamara). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this and it is such a fantastic story that using it to base a novel around seems ideal but nowhere in the acknowledgments is the case mentioned. The authors even say that they came up with it as part of a late-night discussion where one said, ‘something about 23andMe – Go!’ This seems very disingenuous and would be spotted by any true-crime fan a mile away – there’s nothing wrong with admitting you were inspired by a real-life case!
Overall, The Family Tree is a creepy, twisty thriller inspired by a real case – it’s just a pity about the unrelatable and frustrating main character. Thank you to NetGalley & Avon Books UK for the chance to read the book in exchange for an honest review.
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