Murder — Mystery— Monday
Crime Fiction Book Reviews
What She Knew
Verdict: 5 Stars
A gripping, suspenseful tale of a young boy’s kidnapping and the race against time to save him while exposing everyone’s worst secret along the way.
Rachel Jenner is recently divorced. Her ex, John has moved on with his new wife, Katrina but Rachel can’t let go.
One day while traveling through the woods, she reluctantly allows Ben to race ahead to the swings. It’s not far and he knows the way. She knows young boys need their independence. She thinks she’s doing what her ex would do if he was still with them. She doesn’t want to be a smothering mom. It turns out to be the biggest mistake of her life. It’s the last time she sees Ben.
The book is told from the POV of Rachel and the main detective, Jim Clemo, but the author has a unique form of storytelling. In the narrative we learn a good bit of information from Detecticve Clemo’s sessions with the police shrink, blogs and other social media and the way Rachel directly addresses the readers.
I loved the plot. I think the author took one of the oldest and often overused plot lines and made it her own. She added just enough of that “Something Extra + Something Unique” to equal what we’re always being taught is termed high concept. In my opinion, Gilly MacMillan nailed it … high concept in her debut novel. I know … I know, lots of authors use social media in their novels. That’s not what I’m talking about. This author did so in a brilliant way. She made social media another character in her novel and without it, her book might just’ve been another story of an eight year old boy gone missing. The kind of story we read about everyday. The kind of story that sadly goes stale and moves to page eight of the newspaper the next day. But, this author kept Ben’s abduction and the secrets surrounding every player front and center.
Detective Clemo’s sessions with his shrink were probably my least favorite parts of the book. At times I wanted to skim, but I didn’t, because I knew the author had a reason and it turned out she did. It was actually a clever way of introducing his backstory, but they did drag on at times.
The characters were well written and believable. No cookie cutter characters here. No Mary Sue Protagonists in this novel. In fact, for the first half of the book, I wasn’t completely convinced of Rachel’s innocence. There were times I considered Rachel an unreliable narrator. I hated the idea. I couldn’t stand the thought of a mother harming her own child, but we all know it happens in real life. But hey, just because it happens in real life doesn’t mean I want it happening in my fiction world.
The community immediately turns on Rachel. Friends and acquaintances, initially impressed with her as a mother— teachers and faculty at Ben’s school aren’t sure about her anymore. Suddenly, past events, innocent at the time, are passed on to the detectives with a more jaded or sinister tone.
At best, she’s a bad mom for not keeping Ben next to her side and at worst she’s a monster who either killed her own son or is culpable is his kidnapping. Social media doesn’t help and someone out there is authoring a very nasty and cruel blog about Rachel. How are they so privy to their information?
Hmm… One thing that bothered me about the novel was how long the investigation took into discovering the author of the blog. I mean, I know computer geniuses are sly and good at covering their tracks and proxies and IP addresses and all that, but come on — with the entire police force on his/her trail, how long would it truly take? But I’m willing to suspend belief — all in the name of fiction, especially fiction like this that kept me driving around long after my commute home ended. I loved this book so much, I purchased the Kindle version and the Audible version and alternated back and forth.
This author has talent and one of her best skills is writing characters with enough secrets that everyone becomes suspect and the reader never knows who’s telling the truth and who’s hiding the bigger secret.
Throughout the book I kept hoping Ben was alive. I admired Rachel for navigating her own detective work when everyone else gave up on her. She was the true hero of the story and that’s good writing. I also loved how the author gave even the perfect sister, Nicky, and Detective Emma, life shattering and plot altering secrets.
MacMillan’s a master of plot twists and I love a book full of twists right up until the very end. I love books that keep me guessing or when I am absolutely certain I’ve nabbed the killer or suspect … then bam, the author knocks me for another whirl, dispels my theory and shows me the true culprit.
What I Liked About the Book:
The unique way the author presented the narrative
The flawed, imperfect, believable characters
The use of social media and blogging — added in a way I’ve not yet seen
The protagonist’s character arc — I loved witnessing her true and believable character transformation as she goes from the selfish, feeling sorry for herself divorcee, to the hero of her own life who accepts responsibility for her actions and realizes that an eight year old child can never have too many people who love him. She allows her love for her son to outweigh any jealousy she once had for her husband’s new wife and then the “Ah hah” moment when she recognizes how wrong, selfish and immature she’s been. Now if, she could only get Ben back, but is it too late to make things better — make things right? The author did an amazing job of character transformation with Rachel and with other characters, mainly the new wife Katrina, sister Nicky, Detective Emma and Detective Jim Clemo. The transformation and each piece of it was subtle so that nothing jumped out and shouted,
“Look at me — I’m a better person now. I’m redeemed. I’m transformed.”
It was all so subtle the reader doesn’t pay too much attention to it, because we’re focused on bigger things like whether or not Ben’s alive and if he’ll ever be found and if so what kind or torture and abuse he's suffered. And … who the hell kidnapped him?
So, when we recognize the character arc transformations at the end, it’s like a V8 head bang … another reason to praise the writer for her outstanding skills.
Nearly every person who’d ever been in contact with Ben was suspect. They either lied or covered something up. Perhaps the reason they lied had absolutely nothing to do with Ben’s abduction, but it led us down that trail of clues. The author is a genius with red herrings and planting clues.
*** I truly resonated with the book from the first page. I was hooked. The author wrote from her heart and it showed. Every parent — every person could imagine the horrific scenario and we know the grim outcome of most of these cases. The electricity shooting though me as I read (or listened) was real. The emotions were true, raw and real.
The author forced me into a very real and disturbing nightly conversation with myself. This same statement/ question each night … long after I finished the book. And, I imagine other mom’s experienced the same dilemma.
“One wrong choice is all it takes … and our lives are over. One wrong decision and we forever alter the fate, the future, the outcome of our perfect storybook lives complete with our kids.”
She got into my head and I don’t think she’ll ever leave. That’s impressive writing.
What I Didn’t Like:
Wow, I can’t think of anything.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes mystery, thrillers, psychological thrillers, novels of suspense, family drama, crime fiction, police procedural.
Well done, Gilly MacMillan. I’m a new fan and eager for your next book.
What She Knew was a finalist for the 2016 Thriller Award for Best First Novel & nominated for an Edgar Award in 2016 in Best Paperback Original Category.
So, what's on your bookshelf?
I can't wait for MacMillan's September 6th release of The Perfect Girl.