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Thursday, 1 July 2021

‘The Family Tree’ by Steph Mullin and Nicole Mabry

Published by Avon,
10 June 2021.
ISBN: 978-0-00-846124-9 (PB)

You’d think a genealogical DNA kit would confirm and expand on what you already know about your family background. You’d think. But when Liz Catalano sets out to explore her family tree, she gets a whole lot more than she bargains for.

First, she discovers that her large, warm and supportive family isn’t quite what she thought; she was adopted as a baby, and her parents never quite worked up the courage to tell her. Next, she finds that some members of her biological family live within easy travelling distance, and when she makes a tentative approach, they are happy to meet up. Then comes the real kicker. The FBI appear on the doorstep with little warning and tell her they have found a DNA match between their database of unsolved crimes and a member of her new family. And the match turns out to be with one of the most notorious serial killers in history.

The hunt is on. Despite warnings from the FBI and adoptive family, mainly, her cousin and housemate Andie, Liz can’t resist the temptation to explore for herself. And of course, it gets her into all kinds of potential trouble.

This twisty tale is not only a debut novel, but also a joint enterprise. What’s more, authors Steph Mullin and Nicole Mabry live hundreds of miles apart in the USA and communicated over FaceTime and Zoom while the work was in progress. To produce a full-length novel at all under those circumstances is quite an achievement; to write one so seamless that it’s impossible to tell who was responsible for what is little short of amazing.

There are a few issues that more experience will resolve – a tendency to over-explain, maybe a few moments that could have been developed further – but this able pair have made their first novel work well. It has an abundance of the elements required of a psychological thriller: settings that bring the developing story to life; questions that go unanswered right up to the final moments; lots of atmosphere and shivery moments; even a hint of romance. Most important of all, there are characters to warm to, others who send a chill up your spine, and yet more you’re not at all sure about.

Family trees are all about discovering who you are and where you came from – but if genealogy is your thing, this chilling novel might serve as a cautionary tale. Be careful what you wish for – you might get it.

Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Steph Mullin and Nicole Mabry met as co-workers in New York City in 2012, discovering a shared passion for writing and true crime. After Steph relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2018, they continued to collaborate creatively. Separated by five states, they spend countless hours scheming via FaceTime and editing each other’s typos in real time on live Google Docs. Steph’s dream of becoming a writer started at age six, followed by winning scholastic writing awards and crafting articles for her university literary magazine. She currently works as Creative Director for a Media, Entertainment and Digital Marketing Solutions company. Nicole works in television as Senior Manager of Post Production in the photography department. The Family Tree is the writing duo's first co-authored crime novel.

Nicole Mabry is an award-winning photographer, retoucher, and writer who now lives in New York City after growing up in Northern California. She manages photography postproduction at NBCUniversal, working on USA Network, Syfy and Bravo. Nicole’s photography has graced the covers of books internationally and has been featured in shows throughout the city. Nicole is an animal lover, avid book reader and horror movie junkie.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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