Review: What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

what she knewTitle: What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan
Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 496 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


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…


With a truly unique approach to storytelling, What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan is a cleverly written psychological thriller. The investigation into the disappearance of eight year old Benedict “Ben” Finch is revealed through the dual perspectives of his mother, Rachel Jenner and the detective leading the search, James “Jim” Clemo, blog posts and comments, e-mails, transcripts from counseling sessions and newspaper articles.

During their typical Sunday walk in the park with the family dog, Rachel is a bit distracted when she allows Ben to run ahead of her to play on the park’s swing. Arriving just minutes behind him, she is shocked to discover Ben has vanished. Frantically searching the darkening woods around her, Rachel finds no trace of her son and the police are quickly summoned to the scene. In the nerve wracking investigation that follows, Rachel is vilified by the press and on social media as the police try to discover the truth about what happened to Ben.

Rachel is still reeling from her unexpected divorce when Ben disappears. She is hurt and angry over her ex-husband’s new marriage but Ben seems to have finally bounced back from the unexpected changes in their life. In the aftermath of Ben’s apparent kidnapping, Rachel second guesses many of her decisions and she, of course, blames herself for his disappearance. Sympathy for Rachel soon turns to suspicion after she goes off script during a news conference. When information from the investigation is leaked to an inflammatory blog, she is soon tried and convicted in the court of public opinion. While speculation runs rampant that she knows more than she is telling, the police uncover a shocking secret that causes Rachel to mistrust someone close to her.

Under intense pressure to locate the missing boy, DI Jim Clemo slowly begins to unravel during the course of the investigation. While at first thrilled to be selected for such a high profile case, as the days pass with no new leads or information, he begins to identify a little too closely with the family and his objectivity becomes compromised. A stunning revelation from someone Jim cares deeply has lasting repercussions on his emotional well-being and a year after the case is over, his lingering anxiety leads to mandatory counseling. Although Jim initially resists co-operating during his sessions, many of the events that occurred during the investigation are eventually revealed through the probing questions of the psychologist assigned to his case.

A well-written work of fiction that reads like true crime, What She Knew is an incredibly riveting mystery that is quite different from the usual police procedural. Beginning with a prologue a year following the kidnapping, much of the investigation is revealed with the benefit of the key player’s hindsight. This adds depth to the storyline and builds suspense as the novel races to its stunning conclusion. With plenty of twists, turns and brilliant red herrings, it is an authentic and realistic mystery that I highly recommend to fans of the genre.

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1 Comment

Filed under Contemporary, Gilly Macmillan, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, What She Knew, William Morrow Paperbacks

One Response to Review: What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

  1. Timitra

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Kathy