Kate’s Review: “What She Knew”

25817531Book: “What She Knew” by Gilly Macmillan

Publishing Info: William Morrow, December 2015

Where Did I Get This Book: On audiobook from the library!

Book Description: 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…

Review: Yeesh, as I started listening to this book I noticed something of a theme in the books I’ve been taking on lately. So many missing people and/or children! I think that had it been one or two books that had this theme I would have been less likely to notice it, but given “What She Knew” (and another one I will be reviewing at a later date), my total number of missing persons/children books in the past month will be at five. Grim, grim stuff. So the theme continues with this book, one that I had on my list for awhile and just so happened to find on audiobook download at my library. But the difference between this book and the other ones I’ve read is that this one not only deals with a missing child, but the toxic shame culture that has risen when it comes to how we perceive other’s parenting and how we express our displeasure about it. Specifically, via the Internet. Why this summer alone there have been two very high profile cases of tragedies involving children, those of Harambe the Gorilla and the Walt Disney World alligator attack. In one instance an animal was killed when a child fell into it’s enclosure, and in another instance a child was taken and killed by an alligator, which led to Disney killing more alligators in the search for the culprit. And boy oh boy did people take to the Internet to blame the parents, saying that if they had just been paying closer attention, all of this could have been avoided. I kept thinking about these cases and others as I listened to this book, as one of the most villainous culprits in this book is parent-shaming. Macmillan pulls no punches when she shows the insidious cruelty of the shame centered Internet.

The mystery to this book was pretty stellar, even though it occasionally treaded a bit towards the unhinged. There was twist after twist after twist, and since I was listening to it it wasn’t as easy to keep up with it. I couldn’t really skip back that easily, so I would just have to say ‘okay, I guess I remember this stuff’ and hope that I actually did. I think that sometimes when trying to throw out red herrings, Macmillan just went a bit overboard. First the person who did it would be Person A, then it would be Person B, then it would be Person A again, but then no wait, it’s Person C! Just a few too many flip flops for my taste. The benefit of the flip flops, though, is that I was taken by surprise as to how it all shook out, which is always a good thing when it comes to my reading materials.

The characters in this book ran the gamut from run of the mill to pretty complex. I really liked Rachel, the harried and terrified mother of the missing Ben. She was a well done picture of someone who is terrified that she has lost her child forever, and yet is willing to pull out all of the stops and kick down all of the doors in London to find him. At times I wanted to shake her and tell her to, for the love of GOD, listen to the professionals who are trying to bring your child back to you, but I am pretty sure that was the whole point. Her relationship with her older, controlling sister Nicky was one of the strongest things about this book, as they blatantly love each other fiercely, but lock horns over under the surface conflicts that aren’t apparent until later. That said, these under the surface conflicts are the product of a very out there plot twist that didn’t feel necessary. I know that it was supposed to instill doubt in the reality of their relationship (and I will leave it at that), but there were a lot of less ridiculous ways that Macmillan could maintained the doubt, in my opinion. It kind of baffled me.

I also found the parts that centered on Detective Inspector Clemo to be a bit superfluous. I liked him enough as a character, and it was nice seeing the police side of the investigation and the hindrances that they faced in this situation (probably pretty realistic hindrances), but the troubles in his personal life and his emotional problems just didn’t quite do it for me. I know that the way that it was told (as sometimes therapy transcripts were used to tell his side of the story) was just another way to make the reader wonder what was happening, but I found myself hoping that these parts of the story would go faster. It was a good dichotomy to show the police approach versus the proactive approach Rachel wanted to take, so that aspect was appreciated.

I listened to this on audiobook, and both a male and female narrator were used depending on whose side of the story was being told. Penelope Rawlings covered the Rachel parts, and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart covered Clemo. Sometimes they kind of had different cadence and voice styles for the same character, which was a little distracting, but overall I thought that they both did a good job. Rawlings especially conveyed Rachel’s desperation very well.

“What She Knew” was a good book to listen to in the car, and I enjoyed it for what it was. It’s a good story to add to the lady centered thrillers that have exploded in popularity, and I think that fans of the grit-lit genre should definitely give it a try!

Rating 7: This was a pretty tight thriller with a lot of good twists, but there were so many that it almost gave me whiplash. The narrators did a good job, and the story was satisfying, though some parts were stronger than others.

Reader’s Advisory:

“What She Knew” is included on these Goodreads lists: “Female Psychological Thrillers/Suspense”, and “Book of the Month Club Picks”.

Find “What She Knew” at your library using WorldCat!

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