Sunday, February 07, 2016

Bookish Thoughts: What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

In the eyes of others, we're often not who we imagine ourselves to be. ~ Opening of What She Knew


What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan
William Morrow, 2015
Crime Fiction; 496 pgs
Source: Edelweiss

I vividly remember the few minutes that my husband and I lost sight of my daughter at Disneyland one afternoon. I thought she was with him; he thought she was with me. Panic filled both of us as we began to search and call for her. My husband found her just outside the shop we had been in. She had wandered over to the Rabbit's door for a closer look. She had not even realized anything was amiss. I can only imagine the fear and panic that would grip a parent in Rachel's shoes, her son missing, not just for a minute or two but not being able to find him at all. It's one of a parent's worst nightmares. I know it is mine.

Still struggling to overcome the break-up of her marriage, but trying to give her eight-year-old son some normalcy, the two often take walks through Bristol Park together. One day he asks to run ahead  to the tree swing, and she relents. It is a decision Rachel Jenner will regret the rest of her life. Her son disappears. A police investigation gets under way, led by Detective Inspector James Clemo, who is both excited to be leading his first big case, but also very aware of the seriousness of the situation. The longer Ben is missing, the less likely they are to find him alive.

Rachel's sister and best friend come to her aid as Rachel barely goes through the motions of making it day to day. She's beside herself with guilt and worry for her son. Author Gilly Macmillan captures the raw emotions of a mother suffering through the initial days of her child's disappearance. It would be easy to describe Rachel as whiny and unlikable, but given her situation, that we are catching her in her worst moment, is it really any wonder? She clearly has been suffering from depression given recent events in her life. Add to it a missing son. I wanted so often to offer some support to Rachel. Her feelings of hopelessness and guilt are palpable. She is angry and afraid. She does not know what to do with herself and how to help her son.

The author also does an excellent job of bringing to light the way public opinion can sway so quickly. At first sympathetic, some in the general public soon turn to accusations and blame of the mother as they jump to conclusions, scrutinizing her behavior and rumors they hear. A leak in the case doesn't help matters. Social media makes it easier to fan those flames; we see it in real life too--the shaming and blaming that goes around. This too has an impact on Rachel as well as the investigation.

The novel follows both Rachel and the lead inspector on the case. Rachel as she is experiencing the disappearance of her son and DI Clemo as he reflects back on the investigation during therapy sessions. To say the least, both are under a lot of stress. DI Clemo beats himself up over mistakes made along the way and wishes he had solved the crime sooner. I liked how the author was able to get across the bias that can impact an investigation based on past experiences of the investigators involved as well as the pressures of the job itself.

What She Knew was tense and had its share of red herrings--each of which could have been a viable option. No one is above suspicion, especially not Rachel. There were aspects of the ending that surprised me and others that did not. Overall I enjoyed What She Knew, although I was not quite swept off my feet the way some readers were. The resolution felt a bit rushed, but the ending was satisfying just the same.


To learn more about Gilly Macmillan and her work, please visit the author's website. You can also find her on Goodreads and Twitter

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 © 2016, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

25 comments:

  1. Sounds interesting and stressful. Children can "disappear" in an instant causing fear and panic, even when you spot them within minutes, the experience is heart-stopping. And the idea of the way public opinion can turn and the blame and shame mentality, made so much worse by social media causes even more stress. Interesting to examine these elements in a novel--at a distance!

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    1. Jenclair - It really is heart-stopping, even in those few minutes they go out of sight and you can't find them. With the parents or another family member or close friend often being behind a missing child situation, it's impossible not to consider the possibility someone close to the family committed the crime. It's one thing to wonder or suspect and another to attack and blame without actual evidence. I appreciated that the author included this in the novel, as it fits with our reality of today, given the nature of the news and social media.

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  2. Vance is 28 and I can still remember that panicky feeling when you can't find them. This book sounds terrific!

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    1. Kathy - I can imagine! The emotions that come up in a situation like that are so intense.

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  3. Sounds like a well written novel despite its rushed ending. I like the idea of the author exploring the fluidity of public opinion and the part social media has to play in this.

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    1. Tracy - I thought it was well done. Yes, the impact of social media on cases like this is very relevant, I thought, to today. It added to the realism.

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  4. I can still feel that punch in the chest when I remember the few times I''ve suddenly lost sight of any of my kids. Those few times have only been for a few seconds so I can't imagine going through what Rachel goes through. This does sound good though a tough read. I've found intense books tend to have a rushed ending but as long as everything is wrapped up I can live with it.

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    1. Katherine - It's not a memory we forget easily, is it? Now that I think about it, it does seem to happen often, the build up and then a seemingly rush to the end.

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  5. I read this book last year with the British title - Burnt Paper Sky. I agree that this book brings to the forefront all the feelings you have as a parent when you lose sight of your child. And mine hasn't been a child for a long, long time. I felt the author did a good job with today's manner of often blaming/shaming/pointing fingers at parents/police/whoever. Social media has ramped things up so much and our info is often almost instantaneous. Scary and I felt sorry for Rachel. Yes, I also understand what you meant about the ending. A good book overall for me.

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    1. Kay - Burnt Paper Sky is such an interesting choice for a title for this one. I wonder what made them think of that. Even with news at our finger tips it often isn't accurate or complete, is it? It makes it easy to jump to conclusions. I am glad you enjoyed this one was well, Kay.

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  6. There have been similar stories told yet, this still sounds so compelling.

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    1. Diane - Yes, there are definitely a lot of missing children books out there. I haven't read too many for obvious reasons, but it seems like this year I have been.

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  7. I am glad that you enjoyed this one! I am very eager to read more by this author. Great review!

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    1. Samantha - I would like to read more by her too!

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  8. We parents all remember "that moment" when we couldn't find our child in a crowd. Takes your breath away and you can't ever forget it.
    I have had this book in my sights since it released and I do want to read it, despite a perhaps rushed or unsatisfying ending. Sounds like an emotional read, and on occasion I am looking for that kind of book.

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    1. Rita - You are right. Panic and fear like that are impossible to forget. I'll be curious to know if you do read this one, Rita.

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  9. I've got this one on hold at the library, and I can't wait to get my hands on it. Definitely sounds scary and suspenseful. I always get a knot in my stomach when reading books with missing kids!

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    1. Diana - I hope you like it when you read it! Same here--that knot sits there until I know the child is safe--or at least we hope it turns out that way.

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  10. I think every parent has had at least one moment of heartstopping terror when you don't know where your child is. It happened to me a few times, and just thinking about it is enough to get my adrenaline going. And I can only imagine the agony of a parent going through that day after day. It sounds like the author did a very good job of conveying that hell. I can't even read books about missing children, unless I know for certain they come home safely.

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    1. Lark - I can't even imagine what it would be like for a parent whose child has been kidnapped. I hope I never find out!

      I could tell you whether they found this child or not if you want to know whether you can read it or not. ;-)

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    2. That would help, thank you. You could email me at lark AT bookwyrmshoard DOT com . That way there won't be any spoilers for other readers!

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  11. I share your sentiments, Wendy. There was once I thought I lost my youngest in a store and after a frantic search I was relieved to find her. The thing is, she didn't even realise she'd lost us. That was one frightening experience, though it couldn't be compared to losing a child outside the huge world but still...

    I'm glad you enjoyed this book, Wendy. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more by this author.

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    1. Melody - It's so frightening in those brief moments! Mouse hadn't even known anything was amiss either. I would be such a mess if anything like what happened in this book happened to our family.

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  12. That has to be such an awful moment for a parent to go through! Really enjoyed your review and I'm looking forward to this one. I keep seeing it everywhere and I really want to read it.

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    1. Iliana - Thank you! I hope I never have to go through what Rachel did. So terrible! I hope you enjoy this one when you read it.

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