#BookReview: The Forever Witness by Edward Humes

From Good Reads: After 30 years, Detective Jim Scharf arrested a teenage couple’s murderer—and exposed a looming battle between the pursuit of justice and the right to privacy.

When Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook were murdered during a trip to Seattle in the 1980s, detectives had few leads. The murder weapon was missing. No one witnessed any suspicious activity. And there was only a single handprint on the outside of the young couple’s van. The detectives assumed Tanya and Jay were victims of a serial killer—but without any leads, the case seemed forever doomed.

In deep-freeze, long-term storage, biological evidence from the crime scenes sat waiting. Meanwhile, California resident CeCe Moore began her lifetime fascination with genetic genealogy. As DNA testing companies rapidly grew in popularity, she discovered another use for the technology: solving crimes. When Detective Jim Scharf decided to send the cold case’s decades-old DNA to Parabon NanoLabs, he hoped he would bring closure to the Van Cuylenborg and Cook families. He didn’t know that he and Moore would make history.

Anyone can submit a saliva sample to learn about their ancestry. But what happens after the results of these tests are uploaded to the internet? As lawyers, policymakers, and police officers fight over questions of consent and privacy, the implications of Scharf’s case become ever clearer. Approximately 250,000 murders in the United States remain unsolved today. We have the tools to catch many of these killers—but what is the cost?

Review by Coffee&Ink

I’ve been trying to read more nonfiction that’s not research for writing, and so I picked this one up. It reads like the most compelling fiction. I was caught up on page one in the murder of Tanya Van Cuylenborg and Jay Cook in the Pacific Northwest. Also the story of Jim Scharf, the dedicated cold case detective assigned to the murder of Tanya and Jay. 

If you’re a reader of true crime or forensic science, you’ll love this book. And because the story is so well written, readers of murder mystery fiction will enjoy the story, too. I have to say the science was beyond me but not incomprehensible. If you’ve got a basic grasp of how DNA works, you’ll be okay. We’ve had those DNA testing kits around for a while now, but this is the key in the lock that’s solved many cold cases beyond Jay and Tanya’s. The forever witness, if you will.

I had chills reading the pages, amazing because I’m not a science person. And in our household, the DNA kits people are using to explore their ancestry are a bit of a hot topic. I think it’s great–one of these days I’ll do it and find out where my genes have been. For my partner, this is potentially an invasion of privacy where its uses beyond the consumer and into the legal realm is potentially a Frankenstein monster. The book explores these ethical issues, too. 

Highly, highly recommended.

I received a review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.