A young couple was killed in Lucas County in 2011. Someone’s serving two life sentences for the murders.
Genetic genealogist Cece Moore thinks she can help put the case to rest.
The convicted murderer maintains his innocence, even though his DNA was found on a cigarette at the crime scene. Moore believes two more sources of DNA can shed light on what truly happened: on duct tape and a cell phone.
Moore’s process is the same that unearthed the Golden State Killer decades after his murders. In essence, she matches the DNA sample to distant relatives and works back to possible suspects.
Turning this into a story, what if a genetic genealogist working on a case gets more than she bargained for—the killer starts coming after her?
Part of the story is that the genetic genealogist isn’t some faraway scientist running tests on DNA; instead, they’re at the crime scene, looking for genetic material. They’re part of the forensic unit, brought in as a specialist for particularly heinous crimes.
We meet the protagonist at a crime scene in Miami. There are no discernible leads and minimal chances for DNA recovery. The first parts of the story are highlighting the difficulty of finding any genetic material at all.
An essential part of the process is research into cold cases. The genetic genealogist searches through similar circumstances, expanding her geographical reach while navigating personal interactions with local police, who don’t want her there.
A second murder elsewhere in the state expands the cold case volume. There’s still no genetic material. While the rest of the police pack up after the crime scene examination, the protagonist stays an extra night at a local bed and breakfast. There, the owner talks about a similar case they remember from decades before.
The genealogist looks up the case, then has to hunt down the collected evidence. In the meantime, she becomes aware she’s being followed, culminating in a nighttime attack that she survives using pepper spray (or a display of fighting ability).
After finding the cold case evidence and running the required DNA tests, the genealogist determines one man, living off the grid, is their prime suspect because of the similarity to the recent crimes.
Then, there’s another murder, again without DNA. Turns out, she solved a cold case but didn’t end the current spree.
She tests DNA from the scuffle, determining that the man who attacked her is the arrested man’s child. He has no idea about the kid and doesn’t know who the mother could be. After tracing the DNA through further connections, she narrows it down to a young man born nearby the first killing.
The problem? Nobody knows where he is.
The genealogist’s work done, she goes away for a mini-vacation in a nearby bed and breakfast, where she’s attacked by the murderer. She incapacitates them and waits for the police’s arrival.
Further books in the series play on similar tropes—searching cold case files, finding DNA samples, and navigating the relationship with local police.