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Jim Clemo #1

What She Knew

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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...

512 pages, Paperback

First published December 1, 2015

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About the author

Gilly Macmillan

10 books4,523 followers
Gilly Macmillan is the New York Times & Sunday Times bestselling author of TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH, THE NANNY, WHAT SHE KNEW (previously published as BURNT PAPER SKY in some territories), THE PERFECT GIRL, ODD CHILD OUT & I KNOW YOU KNOW.

Gilly is Edgar Award nominated and an ITW award finalist. Her books have been translated into over 20 languages.

She grew up in Swindon, Wiltshire and also lived in Northern California. She studied History of Art at Bristol University and the Courtauld Institute of Art in London.

Gilly lives in Bristol, UK with her family and writes full time. She’s currently working on her seventh novel.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 6,584 reviews
Profile Image for Linda.
1,287 reviews1,328 followers
January 31, 2016
Serve this in a tall glass with a twist or two. It's that good....and I don't give out that many 5-star reviews or take the honor lightly. Just plug me into a non-stop connection to all future Gilly Macmillan books. I'm hooked.

This is the story of a missing child who disappears within moments during a walk in the woods with his mother. The panic weighs heavy from the get-go and Macmillan is relentless in her descriptive abilities. She taps into the devastation of the parents and family with such eloquence of language that you experience the rawness and are saturated in it. I've yet to come upon an author who comes close to capturing police procedures and the depth and toll of their own human encounters.

"It was a poisonous sky: the death throes of last night's weather. I remember thinking that it wasn't a good night for a small boy to be missing. Not a good night at all."

And Gilly Macmillan masterfully brings this story to closure like I've never seen before. We all have experienced "thrown-together" endings that make us shake our fists in frustration....too many loose strings or unbelievable events. Not this time. Not this author. She respects her readers. And we, so graciously, are all the better for it. Bravo, Ms. Macmillan!
Profile Image for Deanna .
687 reviews12.5k followers
June 6, 2016
This book has two titles Burnt Paper Sky and What She Knew. It has caused some confusion as many (including me) thought it was two different books by the same author.

Anyhow, I don't care if it has 67,562 names, I am just glad I came across it and that I read it. It was a phenomenal read that I read in just a few sittings.

Rachel Jenner and her eight-year-old son, Ben and their dog are taking a walk though Bristol Park. This is something they often do together. Ben asks if he can go ahead a bit on his own, Rachel says yes and off he goes. After a short time Rachel calls for Ben and he doesn't answer. As she searches for him she starts to panic, in only moments her worst fear, any parents worst fear has happened....

Ben has vanished.

Immediately everyone begins to search for Ben but to no avail. Police are called in and search parties are sent out. When the dog comes back alone and there's still no sign of Ben everyone starts to realize that Ben has not just gotten lost somewhere in the woods.

Where is Ben?

A press conference is organized where Rachel is to appeal for help in finding Ben. However, Rachel doesn't follow the script she's been given. It's meant to be non-threatening, to humanize the situation. She feels that the words are too tame and submissive. She tries to read the script but then suddenly changes her mind. Instead she speaks aggressively and threatens that she will hunt down whomever has taken Ben and make them pay. Rachel assumed that people watching would understand that she was a mother who just wanted her child back. Unfortunately the public doesn't see the terrified and worried mother.

"They see a freak show. I frightened people because I was someone to whom the worst was happening, and they turned on me like a pack of dogs."

After the press conference, Rachel is treated horribly both by the public and the press. Many indicate that she must have had something to do with Ben's disappearance. It's awful how judgemental we can be when something like this happens, although of course in some cases judgement is well deserved. But it seems that we often judge a parent for being either overprotective and too controlling or too easy and/or uninvolved.

The story is told from alternating points of view. Rachel's and Detective Jim Clemo. As well there are therapists reports, blogs, online identities and comments, facts from missing children guides, newspaper articles etc. interspersed throughout the novel. Some are fictitious but some are from real resources from papers and websites. For example www.missingkids.com, "When Your Child Is Missing: A Family Survival Guide" and many more.

There was a whole lot more going on in this novel, all of it kept me very interested. A lot of good characters that were not only part of the case but had their own interesting story-lines. Detective James Clemo, the family liaison Officer Emma Zhang, Rachel's sister Nicky and more.

I thought that the author did a fantastic job of portraying how differently people could react in this situation. I may have done some of the same things that a few of the characters did. Emotional and gripping I couldn't stop reading.

I wanted to know what happened to Ben.

When my daughter was younger I had nightmares about something like this happening. Paranoid of all kinds of things. Who am I kidding? I am still paranoid and hover over her in my helicopter. Joking aside I know she can't live in a bubble and has to gain independence in order for her to have a successful life. But as I watch her grow it's still scary! When you hear these stories both real and fiction about a parent looking away for a moment and their child disappearing it makes you want to put your kids back in the bubble.

In my opinion this was an amazing debut psychological thriller. I am absolutely looking forward to more from Gilly Macmillan.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.
Profile Image for Norma.
551 reviews12.7k followers
August 9, 2019
4.5 stars!  What an absolutely thrilling and emotional ride this book took me on!  I am in awe that this was GILLY MACMILLAN's debut novel as I thought this was even better than THE PERFECT GIRL.

WHAT SHE KNEW by GILLY MACMILLAN is a beautiful and cleverly written psychological thriller that takes you on a very emotional and apprehensive tale here of every parent’s worst fear...... their missing child.

GILLY MACMILLAN delivers an impressive and descriptive story that was interesting, believable, suspenseful, heartbreaking, and compelling.  The story is about a missing child, Ben who vanishes during a walk in the woods with his mother, Rachel who allows him to run ahead to the swings and the search for Ben as the clock is ticking to find him before it is too late.  This story was interestingly told in alternating points of view of Rachel and DI Jim Clemo along with therapists reports, blogs, and various different accounts online through social media.

What I particularly loved about this book was that you could really feel Rachel's pain and devastation through the detailed descriptive telling of this story.

I have read quite a few novels about missing children but this one really resonated with me. When one of my sons was much younger he decided to go on a little adventure while visiting family in a big city without us knowing.  He was gone for a couple of hours with the whole neighbourhood and police looking for him. We were devastated and didn't know where he was or what could have happened to him. Was I a bad mother because I let him go to the washroom on his own in the house?  MY SON was found safe and sound but boy I sure connected with Rachel and the rawness of her emotions and her state of mind.  

The conclusion was done so well with no loose ends and was wrapped up so nicely to give me a complete feeling of gratification.   

To sum it all up it was a gripping, steady-paced, and an easy read with a very satisfying ending. Would recommend!!

Review can also be found on blog:
Profile Image for Dem.
1,190 reviews1,131 followers
March 14, 2016
I struggled with this book and perhaps I have read too many novels lately about missing children. I made the mistake of listening to this one on audio and its not that the narrator was bad but the book seemed to drag on forever and as an audio book it just didn't work for me.

I didn't find this novel suspenseful and it lacked any real mystery for me. There was nothing unique about this story and I kept thing something is going to bring this book back from the brink but unfortunately I was left disappointed. I think the novel could have been 100 pages shorter as it just seemed to be never ending. By the books conclusion I was just happy to have finished and wasn't really surprised by the story's conclusion.

An ok read but not one I will be recommending.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews927 followers
April 23, 2022
“In the eyes of others, we’re often not who we imagine ourselves to be.”

Meet the Author: Gilly MacMillan | Suffolk Libraries

After a bit of a slow start, Gilly McMillan’s What She Knew became an engaging page-turner. Primarily told from the perspective of a mother who searches for her missing son, the novel’s strength, I think, lies in exploring whether our ideas about who we are matches up with reality. This reality isn’t just about the devastation of losing a child, but a new perspective on yourself, friends, family and the world which the spotlight of child abduction cases brings about. I had hoped things would stay a bit messier at the end, but this was still a satisfying read. 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Kaceey.
1,126 reviews3,710 followers
January 14, 2017
Oh my gosh! What an incredible novel. Hard to believe this is a debut for Gilly Macmillan.

Every parent's worst nightmare. A missing child. On a Sunday outing to a park in the woods, eight year old Ben asks to run ahead to the playground. That's all it took. When Rachel, Ben's mother finally gets to the clearing of the playground, he's gone.

The Book focuses on Rachel's pain and struggle to deal with her loss, as well as DI Jim Clemo, who heads up the investigation to find Ben. The toll a missing child can have on the whole family as well as the investigative team weighs heavily.

I could not get over the clarity of the voice of Rachel. It was as though she was sitting at the end of my sofa talking to me, telling me her tragic plight to find her son. So real and convincing, you can actually feel her pain. (I read on my Kindle not an audio book).

The book brings in the role of the social media and how that can change the focus of an investigation. (for better or worse.) How today's media can crucify the parties involved without having all the facts is disturbing. How it is so easy to sit back in our own safe environments and cast judgment.

Absolutely could not put it down.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
575 reviews762 followers
June 7, 2017
Rachel lets her son Ben run ahead when they are out for a walk and he disappears. Usually mystery or thrillers aren't very good, even when I try to be more generous about the writing and the characters but wow I really enjoyed this one. The writing was good and the characters were sympathetic. I actually related to the characters and was rooting for Rachel through out the book. I didn't see the ending coming and the way the story is developed it excellent because my excitement kept building up all the way to the climax, I felt so much anxiety about not knowing what was going to happen to Ben. Definitely one of the better mystery books I've read.

Profile Image for Julie .
4,077 reviews59k followers
September 15, 2016
What She Knew by Gilly Macmillian is a 2016 William Morrow Paperbacks publication.

This is one of those harrowing stories in which a child is abducted, as the clock tick tocks along, and each moment that passes makes the situation more hopeless.

In this case, Rachel Jenner’s son, Ben, is abducted while they are out walking their dog. Once the critical missing is reported, Rachel’s life is upended in ways she never could have imagined and the repercussions will haunt her for a long time to come.

This is a fine example of what happens when a case like this one catches the attention of the press. Rachel is blamed for taking her eye off her son for a short time, her family and friends endure a shocking invasion of privacy, buried secrets are revealed, and the investigation winds up in turmoil.

The story alternates between Rachel’s POV and the head investigator, DI Jim Clemo's perspective, which is an interesting set up, since Jim’s personal demons have landed him in the psychologist's office.

The novel is partly a police procedural, and follows Jim’s investigation and all the interviews conducted, the leads that come through, and the legwork involved. The toll the case takes on Jim is apparent and he becomes obsessed with finding Ben and bringing him home to his frantic mother.

The novel also highlights Rachel’s journey, as she faces public scrutiny, absorbs shocking revelations, and has all her solid relationships slip and slide away from her, while she finds strength from a few unlikely sources.

But, what stood out to me in this novel, was the portrait of a mother’s will, her strength, and incredible grit, as she faces every parent's worse nightmare. She never gives up hope, even when she’s feeling like she may shatter into a million pieces. While Rachel initially had that ‘deer in the headlights’ vibe going on, she rises to the occasion, becoming quite a fighter, learning invaluable life lessons along the way, and winning my deepest admiration.

Racing against the clock setups always have that taut, edgy feel to them, and this book is no exception to that rule, but the story is deep on many levels, examining the toll a case like this one takes on all parties involved.

The author doesn’t hold back here and the characters are flawed, damaged, and fragile, but also human and so real, they remain in your mind long after you finish the book.

Overall, this is a terrific crime drama, and mystery thriller, and again, I continue on my trend this week, by discovering another incredible new talent, who makes a strong impression with this debut novel.

Well done!

Profile Image for Sue.
2,729 reviews221 followers
September 12, 2015

Just now and again you come across a book that just 'blows your'e socks off' and this is just the one for me. I have a few new debut authors this year that has surprised me SO much with their talent, its just Unbelievable that this is Gilly Macmillan's FIRST book.

My kindle says it will take around ten hours for me to read it. Well, the time just flew by.

I also need to say, it was fantastic to know all the places in this read as it was based in Bristol where I live.

This is an emotive read, its an enthralling read, it touches you in places in your heart that you just cannot step back from and refuse to actually feel not only for the Mother of the missing child, but also for her ex husband, and, I have to say, the DI and the Police all surrounding this story.

You can tell this author has really done her homework.

As each chapter passes you from Mom, to Dad, to DI and to manuscripts, phone calls, and interviews, its one hell of a journey.

I really cannot rave about this book enough, I am utterly astounded that this author has just this one single book out and that she is not a long standing author with heaps of books out there on the shelves. I hope I get to read many, many more of her books if they are anything like this.

Its not just the subject matter I am writing about, its her style, its her indepth ability to be able to put into words the characters feelings, suffering, emotions that reach out to you and make you actually feel them too.

Its not often a book brings a lump to my throat, but the ending certainly did. Not just in the final chapter but the Mother's words towards the end.

The feelings of her ex husband and what ripple effect it had on him.

This is like stories we read about in the newspaper, this is what we Twitter......Facebook....."Has anyone seen this boy".....

And we even get an insight to the media attention not only from the paparazzi, but also from someone like you or I making comments on blogs, or social media about it all.

I want to tell everyone, if you like a good story that you can really get lost into and have umpteen suspects running through your head but not know for sure who is can be......THIS IS IT.

I want to thank Little, Brown Book Group UK but also the author, because this book gave me endless hours of suspense and escapism.

A truly amazing debut novel. I just hope I keep up to date with her next book.
Profile Image for Mandy.
320 reviews332 followers
March 4, 2016
I'm giving this 3. This book had a good plot and it creeped me out knowing a child could disappear that quickly without his mother knowing or hearing.

There were parts that I felt didn't need to be in this story... The whole Emma Zhang but didn't need to be included as far as I'm concerned. She was a character that had been added in. She reminded me of an X thrown in with a bunch of Os.

Nicky, Rachel's sister was a main character that I wasn't completely impressed by. She was too perfect. Everything has to be just spot on for her even as her sisters life hung in the balance. And the whole background story behind them was interesting and shocked me but didn't do much for the overall effect of the story.

Laura, Rachel's friend was another character that didn't need to be in the story. To me she had no relevance whatsoever in the story. She neither changed nor hindered the outcome.

The main detective, Clemo, I rather enjoyed. He was a man who took his job seriously and wanted the best for Ben.

This book has portions that were really good and some that I was yearning for more in. I wasn't as impressed by it as I thought, I believe the hype from this scarred me a bit.

This wasn't a terrible book by any means but it wasn't the best I've read. I was hoping life would be a little better for Rachel and especially Nicky (I thought she might end up knocked up and have a boy) but that didn't happen and John and Katrina float in and out of the story like butterflies... I didn't think they were as important either.

Just fell short for me as it wrapped up and I didn't like who was written to abduct Ben. It seemed way out of left field for me.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Lucie.
100 reviews30 followers
November 29, 2021
Macmillan writes with such raw emotion that I could actually feel my heart beating out of my chest, and I think I held my breath the entire time.

This book is a huge emotional roller-coaster. It's captivating and addictive, but also incredibly anxiety-filled, because the nightmare the mother finds herself in is so realistically portrayed. Her anguish is palpable.

Rachel Jenner is walking in the park with her eight-year-old son, Ben, when he asks if he can run ahead. He's excited to get to his favorite rope swing. Immediately, Rachel's maternal dialogue kicks in inside her head.

She loves her son more than anything else in the world. She wants to protect him at all times. Yet... she knows she has to nurture him into becoming a self-assured young person. At some point, she has to let him grow up, and growing up happens in these small moments, where little by little, you give your children more and more autonomy and space, room to grow.

So, Rachel agrees to let him run ahead. After all, she's only a few strides behind him on the path. It's a path he knows very well, and besides, their dog is with him.

HOWEVER... when Rachel reaches the rope swing a few moments later, Ben is nowhere to be found. OH. MY. GOD. Can you IMAGINE??!!!

The court of public opinion is thick in this one. Everybody's following the story in the news, and everyone has an opinion about whether or not Rachel should've let her son run ahead. Everyone's just SO sure they're a better parent, a more careful parent. The scrutiny only adds to the enormous emotional torture Rachel has already placed on herself. She certainly doesn't need anyone else telling her she made a mistake. She's already beating herself up enough with every second that passes.

The seconds turn into minutes, the hours into days, and the clock just won't stop ticking as every lead has to be carefully run down. The lead detective even becomes emotional and desperate in his search.

The panic in this one weighs very heavily on your heart, right from the beginning. It was definitely the most gut-wrenching missing-child story I had ever read. I'm not sure if that was a good thing for me or not. It was so well-written and realistic that it was super anxiety-filled. I think this would be a difficult and emotional read for anyone, especially a parent.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,781 reviews14.2k followers
December 29, 2015
Letting her eight her old son Ben run up ahead, Rachel expected to get to the swing and find Ben having a great time. But he wasn't there, in fact he wasn't anywhere. Ben is gone.

From the opening chapter it is apparent that this author is firmly in charge, her writing is so confident, her pacing so perfect. She takes a rather common theme in mysteries, a missing child and turns it on its head. She shows the reader the cost of such tragedies, not just to the parents but to the police officers in charge of finding the child. Rotating narrators we are treated to all aspects of the case, from the Mother's devastating sorrow and helplessness to the divorced Father's guilt. The savage treatment of many bloggers and the insensitivity and prejudgment of the media. Truly an in depth look in all directions. Secrets, of course there are always revelations, suspicious people who were not where they said, whom they said. Yet, I trusted this author and did not even try to go ahead and guess at what would happen next. Knew it would be revealed when it was meant to be revealed and no sooner.

A brilliant début by an author with an amazing amount of talent. Look forward to more.

ARC from publisher.
Profile Image for Tina Haigler.
297 reviews103 followers
October 5, 2019
"In the eyes of others, we're often not who we imagine ourselves to be."

As a mother, this was a very tough read, so I had to force myself to keep going. I don't do well emotionally, reading about kids in danger, missing, hurt, abused, or really anything other than perfectly healthy and happy. So this book was hard on my heart, but it ended up being a really good page turner.

It's told in three points of view. The chapters switch between Rachel, the mother of the missing child, Jim Clemo, the main detective assigned to the case, and the psychiatrist Jim is assigned to a year after the case takes place. Honestly the civilian characters were a little bland, and I don't think the psychiatrist's POV was really necessary, but I did really like the cops. Rachel was portrayed as the perfect mom, yet still being shunned by society for being newly single. I did feel a little sorry for her, but that's about it. You can only feel so bad for someone who wallows in their own pity. Her husband and his new wife were nothing special, cliche even. He was a pediatric surgeon and she was super young and looked like a super model. Her sister was the classic type A with secrets, and the need to control all aspects of her life. So with the civilian characters lacking, the detectives were the ones I really found interesting, at least that was the case with Jim and his supervisor. They were the main ones I actually cared about anyway. I liked their determination and how much they cared about finding the child. I also liked seeing how given the circumstances, the civilians really came together in the end, to function as a family.

This book was easy to read, but it was hard on the heart. I might've done a few things differently, but I still read it pretty quickly. I just didn't want to put it down. On a side note, it is set in England, so if you are not British, you might have to look some things up. To me that was a plus because I learned a few things in the process. Ultimately though, I think if you can handle reading about a missing child, you like mysteries, crime procedurals, or stories set in England, you should give this one a go. If you are more weak of heart, I would leave this one be.

"And that is all anybody needs to know."
Profile Image for Carol.
834 reviews499 followers
December 29, 2015
The Hook - Debut thriller highly recommended by friends.

The Line”I was their target because I was socially unacceptable, and so they did everything they legally could: they publically lanced me with words which were written, examined, and edited, each process carefully honing them in a calculated effort to push people’s button once they were published, to froth up public opinion around them so that my situation could titiallate others, could thrill and bolster the minds of the smug and judgmental.”

The Sinker – My sincere thanks to William Morrow and Edelweiss for the privilege of reading the e-galley of What She Knew published on December 1, 2015 in the US.

What She Knew is a beauty of a debut. The plotting, pacing, and character development, were not too fast, not too slow, but seemed just right.

This story has been told before. Haven’t most been? And yet I’m always drawn to a missing child and the search to find he or she. In this case, young Benedict (Ben) Finch is out for a walk in the woods with his mum , Rachel and dog Skittle when he asks

”Can I have a go on the rope swing? Please.”

”Yes, I said. I reckoned we could still be back at the car before it got dark.

”Can I run ahead?”

Rachel hesitates as many of us would but in turn asks the reader to think before we judge her. She poses a question to us:

”What do you do when you have to be both a mother and a father to your child?”

In the spirit of giving Ben a sense of independence she reluctantly allows him to “do it”. He’s off and that is the last she sees of him. Gone, gone where, with who and is he to be found, dead or alive?

Gilly Macmillan uses a clever device to tell her story, one that has often been used successfully and in this cases enhanced my knowledge of events. Press releases, letters and a very strong dose of social media were used to strengthen my view of Rachel. The heavy use of social media seems the perfect vehicle to expose, punish and try Rachel for letting Ben out of her sight and seems quite real given the public shaming exhibited online these days. To fill in the pieces not able to be told by Rachel we are privy to pov of the ex-husband, Rachel’s sister, and the police team, particularly the lead on the case, DI James Clemo. There’s enough guilt to go around for each of the players and enough tension to build a first-rate story.

Will you sit in judgment of Rachel? Read this emotionally charged take on a parent’s worst nightmare and see where you fall.
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
632 reviews350 followers
November 26, 2016
This is just what I needed for book slump reading. Not too hot or cold, just right. While not a page turner (for me at least), it was engaging and kept me entertained without being demanding.
A little boy has disappeared and from the moment he's gone the story progresses with the alternating perspectives of the mother and the detective assigned to the case. Information about the search for missing children is sandwiched in between chapters as well as how progress can be made or impeded by law enforcement and the media.
In my opinion it was overly long which is why my pace slowed up but would be worth the read for a broad audience. It was a thoughtful and intelligent take on subject matter that can be overly sensationalized, especially with the abundance of these books as of late. I appreciated the restraint. It's more a tense psychological drama based on hard truths than a thriller that any parent could relate to.
My slumpy state of mind may have kept that forth star from view.
Profile Image for Linzie (suspenseisthrillingme).
309 reviews144 followers
June 21, 2023
One autumn day, ten months after being deserted by her husband for another woman, Rachel Jenner and her young son are out for a walk in the woods by their Bristol home. Excitedly, Ben asks if he can run on ahead to play on the much loved rope swing. Hesitant at first, Rachel eventually says ok. He is eight years old after all and should start gaining some independence.

But when she rounds the last bend, Ben is nowhere in sight. Suddenly her life is not her own. Instead it is ruled by search parties, police interviews, and palpable fear. And that is all before the news media gets ahold of the story. Soon she and everyone around her are at the epicenter of a tornado of suspicion. First her newly married ex-husband, John, and his young, pretty wife, Katrina. Then her perfect sister, Nicky. Finally, however, the attention lands firmly on Rachel herself and the scorn the public throws her way is plentiful.

Desperate to find her son, Rachel starts investigating what could have happened to Ben. With each clue that she pieces together, however, her suspicion hones in not on the scary stranger that she’d been imagining, but instead the people closest to her. Those that she’s always thought she could trust. And the longer Ben remains missing, the more terrified Rachel becomes. Is he still alive? Well she ever see him again? Or is she doomed to live the rest of her life with the not knowing?

Wow. Describing this one isn’t going to be easy. At least, finding a way to do it justice won’t be. See, What She Knew was one magnificently plotted emotional tale told with elegance and ease. On top of that, the twists were mind-blowing, and with a totally unexpected culprit to boot. And let’s not forget how magically Rachel’s heartbreaking story was intertwined with the true-to-life police procedural portion of this dual POV plot.

But perhaps the most successful aspect of the book was easily the very thing I started this review with: the palpable fear and heartache that one little boy’s disappearance triggered. Over nearly five hundred pages of stunningly beautiful prose, Gilly Macmillan managed to skillfully impart emotion so thick that I could feel it like I was in the room. Frankly, I’m not even sure how one would pull off such top-notch writing, but pull it off she did.

Next up on my list was the absolutely brilliant framework behind the plot. Beyond Rachel and Jim’s own words, we were gifted with psychology transcripts from after the fact that revisited the entire ordeal and the very real lasting damage it had wrought. While there was some minimal repetition with this setup, it was well and truly worth it for the real world perspective that this kind of case would leave participants with. It also sets up the character development that I’m sure is coming in the next book in this series perfectly. Yes, you read that right. This is indeed the first book in a series.

While parts of this novel did feel marginally like women’s lit, which isn’t really my cup of tea, ultimately the storyline and characters got to me. And let’s not forget the sublime conclusion that wrapped everything up with a nice, pretty, little bow while also managing to prime the pump for book two. Even better, it felt not even a bit over-the-top, a direction in which the climax could have easily strayed. But then, this author is a true master of suspense, so no real surprise. All I know is, after three books by Macmillan, I have yet to be disappointed. Rating of 5 stars.

Trigger warning: child abduction, infidelity, assault, mention of: abortion, cancer, suicide, mild animal cruelty
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,363 followers
January 14, 2016
What is it with these novels about abducted children? I have read at least five novels in the last year that somehow feature abducted children or teenagers -- most were thrillers, but not all of them. I swear that I don't seek them out. I just follow the path that leads to me to what might be a good read: a particular author (Chevy Stevens Those Girls) and Joy Fielding's She's Not There), an enthusiastic review by another GR friend (What Was Mine), a chance on a new mystery writer (The Girls She Left Behind), an intriguing literary novel set in an interesting place (The Expatriates), etc... And the worst part is that despite this gut wrenching plot element -- or maybe because of it -- these have all been great reads. And to that list I'll add What She Knew, which is a gripping page turner of a debut novel. What She Knew covers 9 days following 8 year old Ben's abduction from a park in Bristol, England. The story is told from the perspective of his mother and one of the investigators. It also contains some contemporaneous blog posts, emails and news articles. It is a very tightly constructed narrative. It conveys emotions that feel real. And it conveys in real time the sense of helplessness that comes from following any number of leads without any real insight into whether they are blind alleys or worth pursuing, and all the while feeling like the clock is ticking. It conveys how quickly such a cataclysmic event can change family dynamics. And it conveys the harsh toll this type of difficult case can take on the investigative team -- although to me some of this aspect of the book was a bit over the top and its only real weakness. The story is told without any physical violence -- I couldn't have read it if there was any graphic physical violence -- but the emotions nevertheless feel physical. I swear I don't seek out books about child abduction, but if it's a story line you can stomach, What She Knew is a strong addition to the list and definitely worth reading. Thank you to a few GR friends for their enthusiasm in pointing me toward this book. And thank you to Edelweiss and the publisher for giving me access to a copy.
Profile Image for Ellen Gail.
853 reviews378 followers
March 10, 2016

Really, it could fit in with the two-stars just as well, but my gut says three. I go with my gut.

What She Knew (aka Burnt Paper Sky which I personally prefer) is a serviceable thriller about a missing child and the media criticism and pressure that the case creates on the family.

Mysteries / thrillers are a hard genre for me. When it works, man does it ever fucking work! When I read The Girl on the Train and Sharp Objects I stayed up hours past when I normally fall asleep because I had to see how it would end. I had to know who did it and how and I had to know right then, damn it! A thriller should thrill you! If my heart doesn't race, what's the point?

I fell asleep as I was nearing the epilogue of What She Knew. I had to force myself to go back and skim those few pages that I had sleep-read. Truthfully, I didn't care that much. Damn it, I wanted to care! I wanted so much to love it. To say that I only kind-of liked it disappoints me.

There's nothing outrageously bad about it. Objectively, it's a well built missing child case. The media circus surrounding Rachel and the family dynamics were interesting. In theory. In reality, I read it with a sort of detached semi-boredom. I'd be intrigued, but never invested. I was never worried for Ben's safety. I never felt Rachel's guilt and loss. There wasn't any tension to keep me suctioned to the story.

I nearly wrote this review without mentioning the characters at all. That's not a good sign, when I don't feel compelled to even devote a couple of lines to them. I'm not laying awake at night thinking about their motivations or tearing up over them. They don't have staying power.

It's a very basic thriller. Basic is fine, sometimes. Occasionally I just want toast for breakfast. But when you want Belgian waffles with a side of bacon and a hot coffee, toast is mediocre.

I was not in the mood for toast.

What She Knew is a slightly above average book. The plot is good, but there wasn't enough tension or memorable characters to really hook me.

Big thanks to Edelweiss & William Morrow Paperbacks for the digital arc!
Profile Image for Jonetta.
2,243 reviews968 followers
June 18, 2016
Rachel Jenner lets her son run ahead of her in the park and in that brief moment he disappears. What happens next is a disturbing portrait of how theses cases are handled by law enforcement, the media and the public using social media outlets with the family caught in the middle.

It soon became obvious to me that this story was less about a mystery and more about the psychological examination of those involved in child disappearances, from family and friends to the police charged with finding the child on through those on the perimeter (media, citizenry and those just interested). It wasn't pretty but unfortunately rang true to life.

The outcome wasn't as predictable as I thought it might be and I was left with a sense of uneasiness and discomfort. Kudos to the author for a thought provoking exploration of our social system on so many levels. The speed in which the mother is vilified in this story was heartbreaking, primarily because we get her point of view. We can thank our bad experiences with other high profile cases for the current public cynicism and rush to judgment, when outrage should have been properly directed to the mothers but we bought their innocence.

The audio performance was outstanding with two narrators used to present the points of view of Rachel and the lead investigator. They set the tone for the story perfectly. This isn't a whodunit or a suspenseful mystery so be prepared to just observe and reflect. I found it a very interesting story.
Profile Image for Kristy.
1,070 reviews150 followers
October 18, 2017
Rachel Jenner and her son Ben are enjoying a frequent tradition: spending time in the park with their dog, Skittle, when things take a turn. Ben asks to run ahead to the rope swing, and Rachel agrees. That's the last she sees of her son. It's as if Ben has vanished into thin air, and Rachel feels her world cleave into two. The police are called, and the investigation is handed over to DI James Clemo. This is Jim's first major investigation as lead, and he's determined to do it right. Meanwhile Rachel is reeling from her decision to allow Ben to run ahead--one that's quickly questioned by her ex-husband and soon, the media. As days pass by without a break in the case, the media quickly turns its harsh glare directly onto Rachel. Rachel, meanwhile, starts questioning herself--and those around her.

I absolutely adored Gilly Macmillan's mystery The Perfect Girl, so when I saw she had a new book coming out, I knew I had to read it. I didn't realize it was part of a series (apparently featuring Jim Clemo), so I decided to read this one first. It's Macmillan's first book, but, of course, you can barely tell, because she's an amazing writer. She's going to be one of my favorite mystery writers going forward.

The format of the novel is unique -- we get Jim and Rachel's point of view, broken down by Day 1, 2, 3, etc. of Ben's disappearance. But we also get transcript pieces of Clemo's meetings with a psychologist, whom he is meeting with a good year after Ben's disappearance. The gist is that Ben's case has so clearly affected Clemo and his job performance that meeting with this woman--in hopes of getting a good report--is the only way he may be able to remain on the job.

It's an effective format and certainly ratchets up the suspense and tension as we wonder exactly what happened to Ben: who took him? Will he return home safely to his mother and father? Is anyone in this novel telling the truth? It's a slow-burning book, with no major sudden twists and turns, but deftly written, with each character superbly fleshed out. Our cast is small, but well-done: Ben's mother and father, his teachers and schoolmates, his troubled aunt, and those investigating his case.

The standouts, of course, though are Rachel and Jim--our storytellers. Rachel is reeling from her divorce, telling us her story directly, and delving into her own flaws. It allows Macmillan to illustrate the power (not always positive) of modern day society's relentless media focus and what those anonymous people in social forums can do to real, actual people. Rachel isn't always a sympathetic character, though my heart often went out to her, but she's real--a flawed, authentic mother.

And, speaking of flaws, Jim is a fascinating character. We get bits and pieces of how he's formed by his past. He's not a one-dimensional, stereotypical policeman, but a very intricate character. He's driven, but honestly, he's really quite a mess. As a result, he's intriguing but also frustrating in many ways. I'll be quite interested to see where he is in Macmillan's second novel in the series.

So, while this novel is filled with complicated characters, it is also a mystery at its core. Our intricate cast slows things down a bit, but luckily the plot keeps you guessing and wanting to turn the pages. I had various suspicions, throughout, but the ending completely surprised me (something that's hard to do). The novel takes a lot of unexpected turns. At the halfway point, I was completely befuddled, but invested.

Overall, this one is pretty captivating. I actually found myself keeping my daughters closer to me while reading and feeling nervous when they ran off. The night after I finished it, I had creepy dreams about a child being kidnapped--I rarely, if ever, dream about the books I'm reading! Sweet Ben really touched me and, as I mentioned, while I didn't always like Rachel, I very much empathized with her. Macmillan is a wonderful writer, and I'm very excited to be starting ODD CHILD OUT in the next couple of days.

You can read my review of Macmillan's THE PERFECT GIRL here.

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Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews206 followers
December 2, 2016

What She Knew

So this intense, angst-driven psychological thriller set in contemporary Bristol, was exactly what I needed. I only read a few of these type of stories every year, but I am glad What She Knew was one of them.

This is a well-written novel, with a pretty believable plot and interesting characters.
Books about child abduction have been written ad-naseaum, but what I think the author gets so right is the intimate perspectives of Rachel, the desperate/guilt-ridden mother and Jim, the dysfunctional/incompetent police officer, who was in charge of the case.

I also thought the author was pretty savvy in using several formats -blog posts, emails, text-message, therapist transcripts, etc.- to keep the story flowing without overwhelming the reader.

Overall a great read with a satisfying end and few new twists on what could've felt like a tiring, overuse narrative.

On a final note, this is one of those novels, that works well on both the written and audio formats.
The narration, especially by Penelope Rawlins, was pitch-perfect.

Profile Image for Myrna.
714 reviews
February 10, 2017
Not a page turner but definitely interesting. It kept my attention and had enough tension to make me want to read to the end. The book is told through two main perspectives but the mother's narrative was much more engaging IMHO. Not crazy about the audio but a good mystery thriller debut. 3.5 stars!
Profile Image for Elaine.
604 reviews234 followers
March 30, 2015
This is the second police procedural/psychological drama that I have read just lately that has been set at least partly in Bristol (in this case completely) and all I can think is that there must be something in the air because I really loved them both. This is a heart breaking story, following the disappearance of eight year old Ben Finch and told from the perspectives of his mother Rachel and Jim Clemo, the detective leading the investigation.

It is a story full of raw emotion. As you can expect, Rachel is devastated and the author really does a fantastic job of showing her emotions. Both characters are telling their story twelve months on from the events, which have also left Jim broken emotionally and part of his narration is told in the form of sessions with a therapist.

In addition the book also includes emails and extracts from blogs and forums. Following a disastrous press conference, the public’s perception of Rachel is not good. She is faced with a barrage of vitriolic online abuse with people convinced that she must know what has happened to Ben.

It is a story that really drew me in, keeping me glued to the pages, wanting to know what had happened to Ben and whether he was going to be OK. The police investigation is shown in great detail every step of the way and it felt extremely realistic and I really shared the frustrations of the police as they strived to get to the bottom of what had happened. As the story moved to its conclusion there were a number of suspects and I was constantly trying to work out which of them was the real abductor. A thoroughly good read which is highly recommended. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,393 reviews4,904 followers
September 5, 2021

3.5 stars

Rachel Jenner, her 8-year-old son Ben, and their dog Skittles are in a Bristol, England park when Ben asks if he can run ahead to the rope swing. Rachel, wanting Ben to feel confident and independent, says okay. So Ben and Skittles dart off.....and disappear.

A massive search by police and civilians finds an injured Skittles and Ben's clothes, but not the boy - and the cops conclude that Ben's been snatched. And Rachel's (and her ex-husband John's) nightmare begins.

Detective Inspector Jim Clemo is assigned to lead the investigation, which pleases him. He hopes that finding Ben and catching the perpetrator will give him a boost in the police department.

Jim's even confident enough to suggest that his (secret) girlfriend, Detective Constable Emma Zhang be assigned as Family Liaison Officer (FLO).

Told in retrospect, the story is narrated by Rachel and Jim, in alternating sections. There are also excerpts from e-mails, books, a blog, and newspapers as well as reports from Jim's police-appointed psychologist.

In child abduction cases the parents are always suspects, and Rachel and John are questioned. Moreover, Rachel continues to be (surreptitiously) scrutinized by the FLO. Other possible persons of interest include other family members, neighbors, people in the park that day, employees at Ben's school, shop owners who knew the boy, and so on. Or a stranger may have nabbed the child. So the police have their work cut out for them.

As often happens in kidnapping cases Rachel and John are asked to participate in a press conference, to appeal for the child's return. Detective Clemo provides Rachel with a carefully worded script, meant to help the abductor give Ben back. Things go seriously wrong, however, and Rachel - disheveled and wild-looking - ends up pointing at the camera and threatening the abductor.

Apparently this is a huge mistake. Clemo is upbraided by his superior for not prepping Rachel properly, and Rachel becomes the prime suspect in the eyes of the public. Thus she's hounded by the press, a nasty blogger, vandals, and the general public. Even worse, the blogger has inside information about the investigation. Uh-oh....there's a leak.....

As the investigation proceeds a family secret is revealed, a local pervert is pursued, a 'medieval re-enactor' who was in the park won't cooperate, people lie, alibis turn out to be false...and the investigation drags on and on.

By the time the case is resolved Rachel's life has changed dramatically and Detective Clemo - who feels he should have done better - suffers from anxiety and insomnia.

I liked the book. It's a suspenseful page-turner and I was eager to see how things played out. On the down side, the plot has too many kidnap/mystery story clichés and one of the 'big reveals' is not believable. I also don't accept that Rachel's behavior at the press conference would make her seem guilty (she's a scared, hysterical mother after all). I feel like the author tried too hard to include sensational elements in the story, and they ring a false note.

Overall, an enjoyable mystery book, recommended to fans of the genre.

You can follow my reviews at https://reviewsbybarbsaffer.blogspot....
Profile Image for Hirdesh.
399 reviews87 followers
March 6, 2017
4.5 Stars.
Stunning ! ! ! !

A pure psychological thriller, I'd like the pace of story.
Huge wishes for Writer.
I've really enjoyed it alot.
Writer exceptionally derived the story with her intellects and fiction.
That was mixing story line in which emotions as well Life's importance truly revealed as far as when it concerned among Mother and her Child.
Highly recommended one.
Profile Image for Brenda.
4,225 reviews2,730 followers
May 15, 2015
Rachel Jenner had been a single mother for the past ten months; her doctor husband John had since married Katrina. Rachel was grieving still for the loss of her marriage, but eight year old Ben was the light of her life. Full of spark, fun and mischief he was (in her eyes) a perfect child. He had had an unsettled year the previous year after the marriage break-up but his teacher had helped there. And Rachel was happy for Ben as now he was as settled in school as she could hope him to be.

One Sunday afternoon, Rachel took Ben and Skittle, the family dog for a walk in the woods. He was running and playing – Skittle was full of energy and it seemed Ben was too. Just before they were to head back to the car and home, Ben begged to play on the swings for a little bit – “Can I run ahead?” he asked… the decision Rachel made that day would live with her forever. As she frantically searched for her son she wasn’t to know the repercussions of that decision…

With Detective Inspector Clemo in charge of the investigation they threw everything into the search for the missing Ben. Everyone knew the first twenty four to forty eight hours were critical. As the ticking clock moved ever faster, Rachel was distraught; her ex-husband John was equally distressed – but with a suddenness that shocked them, the public turned against Rachel. Social media became a weapon; Rachel didn’t understand why it was all happening…

Would Rachel ever see her gorgeous son alive again? Who could she trust? And would their lives ever be the same again?

I absolutely loved this debut psychological thriller by author Gilly MacMillan. What an amazing debut! Gripping, suspenseful and impossible to put down I was blown away by the unexpectedness of certain aspects. An absolute “must read” for all lovers of this genre; I have no hesitation in recommending it extremely highly.

With thanks to the publisher for my copy to read and review.
Profile Image for Linda.
1,506 reviews1 follower
February 4, 2017
1.99 Kindle Special. 12/15/16

"Where is Ben? The clock is ticking."

This is a tightly focused, fast paced suspense thriller. A Sunday afternoon walk that single Mom, Rachel and her eight year old son Ben have enjoyed many times before turns into a Mother's worst nightmare. The characters were well drawn, there was enough background information that resulted in a well developed plot. The author does a wonderful job of relaying to us how each character deals with this crime during and after, including the investigators. The closer I go to the the end the faster I read with heart pounding! Great debut novel from Gilly Macmillan!

For those of you that haven't read it, the price remains at 1.99
Profile Image for Camie.
915 reviews192 followers
October 22, 2015
This is the UK version of the book that will be released Dec 1 in the US as What She Knew. ( Senior Booklovers group , this was why finding this book was so difficult) It's a psychological thriller about recently single mom Rachel Jenner who is still struggling with her lot in life, when she turns her back for a moment and her 8 year old son Ben has vanished. This debut novel by Gilly Macmillian checks all of the boxes while being retold a year later by Rachel herself, who is viewed by many as highly suspect, along with that of Detective James Clemons who covered the case as he confides his own story to the precinct psychologist. She manages to include the overwhelming terror and guilt any parent would feel in this situation along with convincing you that almost every person encountered could possibly be responsible for the missing child. It is very much a book about trust, and who you should trust, if anyone. I really enjoyed the fact that there were plenty of plot twists and secrets to be figured out without having to actually know all of the gory details which many books in this genre seem to dwell on. That is what makes it different, and will most probably make it a big success. 5 stars
Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,533 reviews9 followers
August 4, 2016
The deeply emotional story, even with all its side roads leading to nowhere, grabbed my attention immediately and never let up until the last chapter. The Epilogue felt unnecessarily long, but otherwise I was caught up in finding out what exactly happened to little 8 year old Ben. And were the media and townspeople being too harsh on Rachel, his mother. Well, considering innocence until or before proven guilty, they absolutely were; and it reminded me of the comment sections on editorial pages and Facebook where you want to tell them all to just shut up. Because what they knew was nothing. What she knew was all that counted.
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