What She Knew is Gilly Macmillan’s debut novel, and it reminded me a lot of Tana French (but not quite as good) or Sophie Hannah (but a little better) — rotating viewpoints, a distraught mother you can’t quite trust, and set in England. I didn’t realize until I’d finished it that I’d also read Macmillian’s follow up (The Perfect Girl), which I believe I called “perfectly unmemorable”. This, too, was a fast-paced read, but I think it’s going to stick with me a little better.
“A year ago, just after Ben’s disappearance, I was involved in a press conference, which was televised. My role was to appeal for help in finding him. The police gave me a script to read. I assumed people watching it would automatically understand who I was, that they would see I was a mother whose child was missing, and who cared about nothing apart from getting him back.”
One day while walking with her eight year old son Ben, Rachel Jenner allows him to run ahead on the path in the park. And then he disappears. A police investigation immediately begins, and we watch it unfold from Rachel’s horrified perspective, as well as the officer in charge of the investigation (Jim). Media releases and gossip sites malign Rachel for her actions, and the police view her recent divorce and depression with suspicion as well. Rachel, of course, just wants her son back.
The author does every damn thing she can to make Rachel seem unstable and untrustworthy, even as we look through her eyes. Her family life is full of secrets, which gradually get revealed throughout the story. From the police standpoint, we see Jim pull out all the stops to find Ben, despite the media’s interference and leaks from his own office. I liked Jim’s chapters a lot more than Rachel, just because he’s easier to trust.
It’s a hard book to put down, not so much due of the writing but because I really wanted to find out if Ben was okay. The hows and whys of what really happened didn’t drive me as much as my desire to get to the end. But it’s a pretty well-crafted story, and once I figured out how it would end I was able to slow down a bit and appreciate it more.