Monday, December 7, 2015

Review: What She Knew

Summary: In her enthralling debut, Gilly Macmillan explores a mother’s search for her missing son, weaving a taut psychological thriller as gripping and skillful as The Girl on the Train and The Guilty One.

In a heartbeat, everything changes…

Rachel Jenner is walking in a Bristol park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. It’s an ordinary request on an ordinary Sunday afternoon, and Rachel has no reason to worry—until Ben vanishes.

Police are called, search parties go out, and Rachel, already insecure after her recent divorce, feels herself coming undone. As hours and then days pass without a sign of Ben, everyone who knew him is called into question, from Rachel’s newly married ex-husband to her mother-of-the-year sister. Inevitably, media attention focuses on Rachel too, and the public’s attitude toward her begins to shift from sympathy to suspicion.

As she desperately pieces together the threadbare clues, Rachel realizes that nothing is quite as she imagined it to be, not even her own judgment. And the greatest dangers may lie not in the anonymous strangers of every parent’s nightmares, but behind the familiar smiles of those she trusts the most. Where is Ben? The clock is ticking... -- Wm Morrow

I love mysteries and especially psychological thrillers. So when I read the description of the new novel WHAT SHE KNEW by Gilly Macmillan, I was definitely interested. With comparisons to THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, I knew it had the potential to be a great book; however, I will admit that the subject matter made me take a pause.

WHAT SHE KNEW is about the abduction of an eight year old boy named Ben. He and his single mom were taking a walk in the woods one Sunday afternoon when he mysteriously disappeared. This novel describes the events that occurred immediately after Ben's abduction through the eyes of his hysterical mother Rachel and Clemo, the police office working the case.

Despite finding this an uncomfortable read at times (I challenge any parent not to be uncomfortable while reading this story!), I did appreciate it... and I guess I'd even say that I enjoyed it. The story was very well written, and I thought the portrayal of the events were realistic. Even more impressive was how well the author captured the intense feelings of both Rachel and Clemo. Not too shabby for a debut novel!

Naturally when a child goes missing, the police try to gather as much evidence at the scene of the crime as possible, but they also have to look to the parents... especially in the case of Ben when the kidnapping was so darn strange. Not only was Rachel beating herself up for letting Ben run ahead of her, but she was also being closely watched by the police and berated by the general public for being, at best, a bad mother, at worst, a murderer.

Rachel was an extremely realistic character to me, and naturally my heart broke for her. However, she was also an intriguing character to me. There were times when her behavior, albeit realistic, wasn't the persona that she "should" have portrayed to the public. And there were even times when I wasn't sure I liked her all that much. I appreciated just how well Ms. Macmillan brought Rachel to life and just how persistent Rachel was in figuring out what happened to Ben... and never giving up.

As interesting as I found Rachel, I really like Clemo, the cop working the case. He was even more interesting to me and the complexity of his character was fantastic. His sections of the novel included his first person thoughts as he became obsessed with the case, but they also featured excerpts from his sessions with an appointed therapist. These sections of the book were some of my favorites, giving both Clemo and the therapist's thoughts about his mental state; and I liked the depth they added to the story.

At its heart, WHAT SHE KNEW was a mystery about what happened to Ben; and I thought it was a very good one. As the police worked the case, secrets about Rachel and her family's past came to light which made her begin to doubt those who were closest to her. (Of course, she also wasn't exactly in a stable mental state either so she wasn't always thinking straight!) I appreciated how the story unfolded, the surprises that were thrown in, and the ultimate resolution of the case.

WHAT SHE KNEW is a fantastic debut from an author whose career I'll be tracking. Highly recommended to fans of mysteries and psychological suspense novels.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this novel.

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read.


bermudaonion said...

Yes, books like that can be hard to read even when they're hard to put down. This sounds like a great debut.

Beth F said...

I like a good psychological thriller, and this one was already on my list. Your review has made me want to pick it up.