About this book: (from the publisher) 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…
About the author: (from her website) Gilly Macmillan grew up in Swindon, Wiltshire and also lived in Northern California in her late teens. She studied History of Art at Bristol University and then at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. She worked at The Burlington Magazine and the Hayward Gallery before starting a family, and since then has done some lecturing in ‘A’ Level photography. Gilly lives in Bristol, UK with her husband and three children and now writes full time. She’s currently working on her third novel.
Genre: Fiction/Psychological Suspense/Page-turner
If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R for occasional profanity and mature situations
Why I read this book: To get lost in a story
Reminds me of: The Daughter by Jane Shemilt; In the Woods by Tana French
[Tweet “Mesmerizing, addictive suspense by debut author Gilly MacMillan”]
My take: I think it’s time for me to own the fact that I have a hard time resisting a good suspense. When I had the opportunity to review this one, I debated a while before I said yes, wondering if the subject would be too dark and depressing. In the end, my curiosity won out (egged on by a raving endorsement from an author who knocked my socks off). I caved, and I’m glad I did. While yes, the premise is dark, the characters and plot are so skillfully developed, shaded with such fine-tuned nuance, that it is not depressing. Though the set-up is repelling, the story remains eminently relate-able. Perhaps for that very reason.
You don’t have to be a mom to be drawn to the story of a mother losing her child in a blink–magnetized by the same kind of horrified curiosity that draws stares to an accident. It is a mother’s worst-case scenario–the unknowing of it. Then, what follows in What She Knew, are so many completely unexpected turns, again and again–I, for one, was completely hooked. Stakes ratchet, the web tightens with every turn of the page… It’s the kind of novel that I hated to put down, and when I did, could hardly wait to pick it up again.
Another aspect that was particularly intriguing: the portrayal of social media, almost as another character. Social-media bits and bites are woven into the narrative (cleverly depicted on the page), and these gave me the same kind of icky, I-need-to-wash-my-hands feeling that certain real-life social media sources also give me. They contain a horror all their own as they reveal the power of social media and its complete disregard for boundaries.
What She Knew probably won’t find a fan in every reader, simply because of its all-too-real subject matter. I did feel, however, that its grim backdrop was handled tastefully (and with surprisingly little profanity–rare for a crime novel–as compared to, say, Tana French’s Dublin series or Chevy Stevens’s suspense novels.) My one quibble is that there perhaps wasn’t enough information to allow the reader to confidently arrive at the answer to Ben’s disappearance, and once it was unveiled, the back-story felt just a shade too pat, as if it were dropped in to provide the explanation. Or maybe I was turning pages too fast to catch it all. Regardless, I liked this book, liked it quite a bit. While a story like this can hardly be called a happy one, the ending was nonetheless satisfying. I found What She Knew an altogether mesmerizing, addictive, and unforgettable read.
Thanks to William Morrow/HarperCollins Publishers for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.
After words: The author (and her endorsement) that captured my attention? “What an amazing, gripping, beautifully written debut. What She Knew kept me up late into the night (and scared the life out of me).” ~ Liane Moriarty, author of The Husband’s Secret
How much do author endorsements affect your decision to read a book?