WHAT SHE KNEW (aka Burnt Paper Sky) is the debut psychological thriller by Gilly Macmillan. It takes place in an area the author has lived in and knows well, giving the reader a strong sense of place. I look forward to Ms. Macmillan’s next book, THE PERFECT GIRL.

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…(synopsis from Amazon)

The blurb for WHAT SHE KNEW drew me in, but it focuses on a missing child. Books with children in peril can often be a slippery slope. So, being a bit torn I started with some trepidation.

WHAT SHE KNEW was completely unexpected. We have a mother, Rachel, who never saw her divorce coming. She’s still dealing and, truth be told, a tad bitter about Katrina, the “other woman” now ‘new wife”, of her ex-husband, John. Ben is torn between his parents and tries his eight-year-old best to make it easier on his mom.

It was the cause and effect that fascinated me the most.

Rachel’s sister, Nicky, is one of those women who appear to have the perfect life. Husband, children, her own successful blog…even if Rachel does feel she’s a little too controlling and over schedules her family.

Jim Clemo is the detective in charge of the investigation into Ben’s abduction. We get his story through interviews with a psychologist after the investigation concludes.

WHAT SHE KNEW is every parent’s nightmare. The loss of a child, and not just through the finality of death, but through abduction. That’s a whole new level of nightmare.

While we are shown the investigative steps there’s a more personal, more human feel that I haven’t experienced before in this type of book. The characters are viewed through what this traumatic time does to them. Because of this there’s a bluntness, a raw honesty that isn’t the norm, at least not in my experience.

One aspect that stood out, and so speaks to human nature, is the rush to judgment against the mother, Rachel. The media is slyly insinuating, blogs have already tried and convicted her. Everyone rushes to judge, even those who should know better. Don’t door say this or that in case you’re perceived this or that way. Awful…truly awful. Normal parental fear and anger are frowned upon, used to vilify and condemn. I don’t think this is a new phenomenon, but perhaps the internet has helped it become more vicious and widespread.

So while I was tense and anxious for Ben, it was the cause and effect that fascinated me the most. What his abduction did to those closest to him, those investigating his disappearance, and the community as a whole. WHAT SHE KNEW, for me, wasn’t just about the search for Ben, it was a testament to who we are as a society. It holds up a mirror and, with few exceptions, the reflection wasn’t particularly flattering.

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About the Reviewer

Ivy Truitt
Transplanted Southerner and avid reader. My tastes are eclectic. I discovered mysteries first then historicals in the era of Kathleen Woodiwiss & Rosemary Rogers. I was never able to finish Gone With the Wind, Scarlett got on my nerves too bad, but I loved Alaina in Ashes in the Wind. I also manage the guest author blog for Manic Readers. In addition to here you can find me on FB, Twitter, Goodreads, Librarything, & Riffle. Always up for talking about books, just gimme a holler!!