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What She Knew - Crime Critic Review by Melissa Sugar

Murder — Mystery— Monday

Crime Fiction Book Reviews

What She Knew 
Gilly MacMillan

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. 

Read more about MacMillan's latest novel here Gilly MacMillan 

Teen Drinking - It's A Crime

It’s A Crime:

Underage Drinking is a crime. 

That’s the law and we all know it. 
This is my daughter’s senior year of high school — the goodbye year many affectionally term it.  It’s sure to be filled with bittersweet memories and heartaches. 
I’m already having a hard time letting go and we’re only one two weeks into the school year. 

With so much to worry about: college applications, scholarships, graduation, homecoming, maintaining her GPA, I also want to treasure every moment with her, teach her how to handle herself once she’s on her own, all without smothering her. At times I want to climb in her bed and snuggle the way we did when she was little. I find myself lingering as I tell her goodnight, reaching for her hand, smelling her hair, trying to capture and freeze the moment. Unfortunately, this is the time she wants to let go, test the waters, test her parents, push the limits and pretend she’s all grown up — a little before she really is all grown up. My daughter wants to do new and exciting things for the first time in her life. As her mom, I should be all for that. Right?

I’m not an idiot. I’m also not one of those parents who’ve miraculously lost their memory and don’t remember what “senioritis” was like. 
I know that most seniors are going to drink alcoholic beverages at one point during their senior year. I also live in Lousiana where parents seem far more lax with the rules than any other place in the US.
From the time our kids entered high school there seemed to be two very distinct sets of parents. One set (I belong to this set — no judgment please) I will call Group A: Got together and came to the very real, realization that our kids would probably drink at some point. We met with our kids and had them sign a contract with us that basically stated they could call any parent in the group if they had been drinking and we would pick them up from wherever they were, e.g., a party, a football game, if they had been drinking. 
No questions asked. No punishment involved. 
They in turn agreed to never get behind the wheel of a car if they consumed even one sip of alcohol. They further agreed to never ride in the car with anyone who had been drinking. I eagerly and readily signed the contract as did my daughter. I never imagined having an issue with her. Turns our I never needed the contract. Damn! How did I get such a good kid I kept asking myself. 
My kids have heard the horror stories through the years told by my parents, my sisters and me. I lost two brothers in two different drunk driving car accidents.

 I lost my brother Stan Sugar in 1982. I think of him every year during the Olympics because gold medalist and announcer Rowdy Gaines never fails to mention the name of his good friend, Stan Sugar from Auburn University, who could have made it to the 1980 Olympics. Stan held an all time record before Ian Crocker beat it then, Michael Phelps beat Crocker. Stan hurt his shoulder and it took him out of the qualifications. He became the team manager while his shoulder healed and he would have to wait and qualify for the 1984 Olympics (the first Olympic games at which only two swimmers per country were permitted rather than three). He never made it. He was killed in a car accident in 1982. Rowdy Gaines went to the 1984 Olympics for the USA. Stan wasn’t drinking, but was killed by a drunk driver. 

My brother Blake was killed in a drunk driving accident in 1990. My daughter, Blake — the high school senior I’m referring to, my only surviving triplet girl is named after him.  He was the drunk driver and he killed two other people. So, my kids know I have a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving. I’ve ingrained it into their minds from the time they understood language. 

So far we have not had an issue. but, I know it's bound to happen. I know kids are going to drink. 

Is it better to take safety precautions like the contract? 
Should a parent strictly forbid their underage child to drink? 
My fear is that the parents who forbid the child to drink are the parents who are at the greatest risk of having something go wrong. I’m afraid these are the kids who are sneaking out to drink. They are the kids who are drinking in dangerous places — parking lots, alleys, parks, stadiums, lakes, ponds, and other known teen and high school hangouts.

When I was in high school things were much different. The drinking age was 18. Now it’s 21. So these kids, who are 17, 18  and 19 are still a few years from the legal drinking age. I could debate the issue if given enough time and the proper forum on whether or not we, (you, me, us) believe the drinking age is appropriate or whether it should be lowered to 18 again. 
I could argue that if a person is old enough


Die for their country while serving in the armed services

Be tried as an adult for committing a crime

Be executed by lethal injection if found guilty of committing a capital offense

They should be old enough to have a beer

I could also argue the other side with as much passion.

But I’m fighting for my child’s life, safety and welfare. 

No. I don’t want her chugging booze at her prom, homecoming dance or graduation party. 

But, I also don’t think I’m doing myself, her or anyone else any good by burying my head in the sand and pretending it’s not happening. I can stomp my feet and demand she not drink. She’s a good kid. She’d probably follow my rules and obey me and we’d make it through the homecoming dance in October. 

Whew! Dodged a bullet. She’d obey me … until she didn’t. 

You see … she’s a kid after all. And guess what. My parental advice and guidance is only going to go so far and sooner or later peer pressure is gonna kick in. 

Kids rebel. 
It’s human nature. 
It’s a fact.

 Sadly, what I’ve seen (here come the tomatoes you’re pitching at me through the computer), but from my personal experience of having throngs and throngs of kids at my home every weekend for the past eight years. You want to who the wildest kids are? You want to know who goes crazy wild when they get away from their parents? 
Yup, you guessed it. Kids with really strict, overbearing, helicopter parents. 
Kids with ministers, preachers and often police officers as parents. When they are at other kids home or when they go off to college they go wild. 
No, not all of them. Some kids are raised well and will always be great kids. I’m just giving you an opinion of what I’ve personally witnessed, as a high school student, a college student, a law student, a parent, a prosecutor, and as a criminal defense attorney.

I’m not advocating for kids to drink. Please don’t misinterpret my message or question. It’s sort of like the question of whether or not you should put your daughter on birth control if you believe she will soon become sexually active. One side believes in being proactive and keeping them safe from STD’S and unwanted pregnancy and the other side believes it condones and even encourages the teen to engage in sex.

So the question I pose to you is this.
If we know that our teenage kids are likely to drink during their senior year in high school do we:

A: Strictly prohibit it and impose serious consequences if they break the rule.
B. Admit it’s going to happen and have a safety talk with our senior and set up some kind of agreement/contract. “Call me if you’ve been drinking and I’ll pick you up, but if you drive while you’ve been drinking you lose your car and will not take it to college.” In addition hold serious talks about the danger of alcohol poison and how little it can take for someone to become intoxicated.

Any ideas? I just want to keep my child safe. I know she’s going to drink her senior year. I can pretend all I want that it’s not gonna happen, but then I’m just ignoring the obvious and hoping I don’t find out about it.  Does Anyone have any real ideas that might serve as a wake up call to a young girl who believes drinking is all fun and games. I wonder if I could take her somewhere and show her people who have been negatively affected by alcohol. Would that even work? You know kind of like a scared straight thing. 

I don’t know why I’m so worried. She’s a great kid. cheerleader, homecoming court for three years, prom court, student counsel, Z club, 3.8 GPA, soccer team and more. She didn’t miss a single day of school last year or the year before. She’s organized and has already made application for early admission to the colleges she wants to attend. 

I guess I know that she can fuck all that up in a second. One poor judgment call. I know from past experience. I lost three brothers. I’ve lost two children and I couldn’t bare to lose another. She knows that. But she’s a child and her brain doesn’t function like an adult. 

The gift/blessing and problem of a child who confides in you, doesn’t keep secrets and doesn’t lie is double edged. It means I now have knowledge of her past drinking experience. Sure it was only once, but I know. I can’t erase it from my memory. 

So, how can I enter this year of Woo Hoo We’re Seniors and We’re Gonna Party Like it’s 1999 (no that was my slogan) —  We’re Seniors — We’re Dreamers. We’re Gonna Party Like it 2525. We Will Survive. 

What’s your position on this? Do you have kids in high school? Do they drink at their senior prom? What do you do to prevent it? Can you truly prevent kids from ever drinking? They will be off at college in a year and still underage — what can we do then? We can’t be their watchdog then. Is it better to teach them safety tips than it is to just strictly forbid drinking and say End of Discussion!

Because it won’t be the end of the discussion. That’s my fear. They will have the discussion with someone else and their lives will be in danger.

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