book review

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillian


Title: What She Knew

Author: Gilly Macmillian

Pages: 512

Genre: Mystery, Crime

Publisher: Harpers Collins Publishers

Publication Date: December 1, 2015

Rating: 4/5

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 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…


This book had me hooked from the beginning. The prologue starts us off 1 year past Rachel’s son, Ben, going missing. The story is told from Rachel’s perspective and one of the lead investigators Jim. Some of Jim’s story is also told through notes his therapist took. I really love when books are able to play with different formats because when done right it really keeps up the momentum of the story. I read this book on my kindle and I had no idea until I was putting this blog post together that this is 512 pages. It honestly felt like a 300 page book which I really feel like speaks to what a compelling story this is.

I really like the character of Rachel and I quickly connected to her. Ben is a 8 year old boy and my two oldest are 7 and 9 and I couldn’t help but put myself in her shoes. Her son asks if he can run ahead to the car while they are walking the dog and she lets him. When she gets to the car she obviously can’t find him or the dog and this sets off the judgement of people everywhere. Throughout the book there are blog posts and news articles with comments at the end that are filled with so much judgement and hate for Rachel and her decision to let him go ahead. Rachel’s story felt so real to me and I appreciated how flushed out her story felt with all the people in her life. She has to deal with her ex husband and his new wife, her best friend and also her sister, along with Ben’s school. It was interesting to see how people reacted and dealt with Ben missing and all the different dynamics.

The other big part of the book is the police investigation to find Ben. This was a very comprehensive look at how an investigation is run and all the people involved. This was the part of the book that frustrated me the most because it was so irritating some of the stuff they would and wouldn’t do. But I also think that was the point since this is the first book in a series starring Jim. Obviously from the first time we meet Jim we know that things don’t end up to great for him and this is the story of explaining how he got there. It just really rubbed me the wrong way when the cops would get a piece of evidence and then say that it probably wasn’t too important and they will look into after they go down this other avenue of investigation. To be fair though, a lot of that frustration could be due to the fact that I watched the first 3 episodes of the Adnan Syed documentary on HBO while I was reading this. Syed was convicted based on a timeline that the cops forced to fit into their evidence even though it doesn’t hold up once you start looking at it. (Just for the record I’m not saying he did or didn’t do it. I just don’t think a person should spend their life in prison based on a flawed timeline. Our justice system needs to be better than that.) If the evidence is taking you in a different direction you should follow the evidence and not get fixated on the person you think did it. This is obviously quite different than the Syed case where that is a murder and this is a missing kid. You obviously need to find the perpetrator as quickly as possible so you can find the child as soon as possible. But you can still do that while also looking at all the new evidence at the same time.

So now that I have gone on a mini rant about our justice system let me wrap this up by saying that this is a fantastically written mystery and crime fiction novel. I thought for a long time that this would be a five star read but I unfortunately really struggled with the actions of the police. I do plan on continuing on with the series and I am looking forward to seeing Jim handles another investigation and how this first one changed him.



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