The third finalist for the MWA Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original is Gilly MacMillan’s What She Knew. It’s a compulsive page-turner of the “oh no, what more can go wrong” variety.
The book turns on a missing boy, eight-year-old Benedict Finch, who disappears one day from an area woodland where he, his mom, and their little dog Skittle often walk. Told primarily from the point of view of his mother, Rachel, the story is also recounted from the perspective of Jim Clemo as well as that of Jim’s psychiatrist. Although the time frame from Ben’s disappearance to the solving of the crime is about a week, the impact of everyone’s actions – including those closest to Ben, the police investigators, even the suspects – reverberates well into the future.
MacMillan does an excellent job of doling out information a bit at a time, ratcheting up the suspense, while switching from one perspective to another (a characteristic of Lou Berney’s nominated novel, as well). The police follow one lead after another, many of which seem promising on the surface, but fail to pan out. The police distrust of the mother leads to some significant mis-steps, and when it comes right down to it, Rachel is the only one who figures out what happened and takes action to save her son.
Ultimately, What She Knew is a fun psychological thriller with some aspirations to significance, an easy book to gulp down. But I found it to be overcrowded with characters, all of whom had a carefully constructed psychological backstory which was eventually recounted. I also could have done without the talky epilogue.
In terms of ranking, Berney’s book is clearly superior. And comparing MacMillan to McAlpine, I’ll have to give Woman with a Blue Pencil the edge for mind-bending originality. Thus What She Knew comes in third at this point.
Literary Lunchbox Edgar Ranking: Best Paperback Original
- The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
- Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine
- What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan
ps- As an MWA member, I got my invite for the Edgar Symposium and Awards Banquet… ah, if only…