What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

what she knewSynopsis: 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…

My thoughts: What She Knew was the book I’ve never heard about, then my mom randomly bought it, devoured it, and told me I had to read it too. So I did. And holy crap I’m so glad I took her advice.

What She Knew is absolutely terrifying. Ben, an 8 year old kid, goes missing. Gets kidnapped. Vanishes without a trace. Rachel is left with a waking nightmare of desperately trying to find her son. And that struggle–horrifying enough as it is–was so well done. Her character was just so great. I felt the despair, the guilt, the sheer terror, and eventually the numbness and mania the situation brought her through. I felt so bad for her! But never was she annoying. She was so human. Her struggle was so well represented and I absolutely loved that Gilly Macmillan got her right.

Jim, the detective assigned to the case, was the other perspective we got to see in the novel. However, we mostly saw him through his therapy sessions a year after the case was closed. And, man, when those would pop up in between Rachel’s search for Ben…it was intense. And just SO GOOD. I don’t even know what to say. Jim and Rachel were both written wonderfully well, and made such compelling characters to an already compelling story.

The plot centered around such an awful thing, and while I felt the awfulness, the book lacked a sense of gritty nastiness that I expected. And I loved that. Even with the outcome the book had (no, I’m not going to say whether they find Ben or not) I put it down and didn’t feel gross. I love good crime/thriller stories, but they can often leave me with a bad taste in my mouth just because they’re so dark and depressing. And that’s what amazed me about What She Knew: it was suspenseful and thrilling and so intense, but I walked away feeling okay. It made me love it even more.

Another strong point was the formatting. I mentioned Jim’s therapy sessions in between Rachel’s story–which was just a spectacular choice, in my opinion–but there was also the occasional web page, blog post, Facebook comment, news feed, or journalist report sprinkled throughout the story. Ah, that was the perfect touch. Rachel and Jim’s characters kept the story very grounded, but the online stuff just brought an added realism. And watching how the public rallied behind and crucified Rachel was so interesting, heartbreaking, and horrifying, because I see that happen in real life time and time again on social media. Such a great commentary on our society.

I’ll say it one more time: Rachel and Jim were amazingly written. But also, the other characters were great. The ex-husband, the new wife, the sister, the best friend, the secret girlfriend…everyone added something to the story, and I found a real human aspect in all of them that helped ground the story as well. And when we got closer and closer to the end–closer to the ‘who done it?’–so many fingers were pointed, and I loved having so many suspects to choose from. Though I have to admit I didn’t see the ending coming at all. I was nervous about that happening, because all too often novels go for the shock factor even if it doesn’t make complete sense. What She Knew went for the shock factor and backed it up with facts that had been placed in front of us the whole time. And that’s when you know it’s a great mystery.

Rated 5/5 for fantastic characters, finding a good use for social media, and handling a sensitive topic with suspenseful grace.