on March 23rd 2016
Genres: Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective, Psychological, Suspense, Thrillers
Great mix of plot-driven mystery and character-driven psychological drama. It deals heavily with the mental toll a child abduction case has on the investigative team and the victim’s family. One of the most interesting parts for me was the close look at the involvement of social media in high-profile cases.
In the eyes of others, we’re often not who we imagine ourselves to be. When we first meet someone, we can put our best foot forward, and give the very best account of ourselves, but still get it horribly wrong. It’s a pitfall of life…if we’re not who we imagine we are, then is anybody else? If there’s so much potential for others to judge us wrongly, then how can we be sure that our assessment of them in any way resembles the real person that lies underneath?…Should we trust or rely on somebody just because they’re a figure of authority, or a family member? Are any of our friendships and relationships really based on secure foundations?
Rachel and her eight-year-old son Ben take regular walks in the woods outside their hometown of Bristol, England. On one chilly October day, Ben begs to run ahead so he can have some extra time on the rope swing before it gets too dark. Rachel is reluctant to say yes, but she relents. She can’t always be so overprotective. Why not let him have a bit of independence? He’ll be fine! Ben and his dog run ahead to the swing while the distracted Rachel hangs back. By the time she reaches the rope swing, Ben and the dog are gone and there is no sign of them in the surrounding woods. The police are called and Rachel’s worst nightmare begins.
I marveled at how the mundane activities that life demanded still needed to be done, even while the worst was happening. I even felt resentful toward my body, toward its demands for sleep, for food, for drink, for bodily functions. I thought that life should stop until Ben was found. Clocks should no longer tick, oxygen should no longer be exchanged for carbon dioxide in our lungs, and our hearts should not pump. Only when he was back should normal service resume. Anything else was an insult to him, to what he might be suffering.
Normally my library holds come available at the WORST possible time (and all at once, no matter how different the wait times are!), but this one became available while I was in the midst of a cold and it was perfect company! I’ve read a number of thrillers lately where the end is a known fact and it is the middle of the story that is in question. In this book, the child is kidnapped in the beginning and we have no idea what happened to him or if he is alive or dead. It adds a real sense of urgency. Part or what makes this book is so scary is that it begins with a choice regarding independence that parents have to make all the time as their children grow older. And really, 99% of the time Rachel’s decision wouldn’t have been so life-altering, but that 1% of the time….
The sense of urgency is further escalated with excerpts from real-world child abduction resources at the beginning of each chapter. There are nine chapters, each representing a day. In each chapter there are several sections, alternating between the mom of the missing boy and the lead investigator, Jim. Jim’s chapters push the investigation forward, while Rachel’s chapters show the trauma of losing a child and the ramifications of being in the public spotlight. There are some glimpses into the future during sessions with the lead detective and his psychologist, but all we know is that the case had a terrible impact on him and it seems like something might have gone wrong with the investigation.
These were people, I thought, with a growing sense of desperation, who would have put me in a workhouse a hundred years ago, and a few centuries before that strapped me into a scold’s bridle, or built a tall bonfire just for me to sit atop, and lit it with flaming torches, which underscored with flickering light their hard-bitten features, their lack of mercy or compassion…I was their target because I was socially unacceptable, and so they did everything they legally could: they publicly lanced me with words which were written, examined, and edited, each process carefully honing them in a calculated effort to push people’s buttons once they were published, to froth up public opinion around them so that my situation could titillate others, could thrill and bolster the minds of the smug and judgmental. Schadenfreude. Conservatism. Better the worst happens to somebody else, because, quite frankly, they must have done something to deserve it. And they felt entitled to do that, these so-called “thinkers,” as they sat comfortably behind their desks with their reference books and their own unexamined moral compass, because I was nothing to them. Ben and I were simply the commodity that would sell their papers, nothing more. And these were the very papers that I used to read, that I used to carry down the road from the shop and bring into my home.
I don’t know if you’ve ever gone down the rabbit-hole of sleuthing communities, but they can get real weird and people get extremely invested in these unsolved cases. It is good when people are talking about a case because it keeps it in the public eye and increases the chance of a conclusion, but there is also a dark side. What makes this book special is the examination of social media and its effect on the investigation and the victim’s families. Blog posts and online news articles with comment sections are included. Rachel suffers real-life consequences from the fervor that the media and the online community whip up. There are sections where Rachel becomes confrontational with the reader. These parts were really jarring at first, but it serves as a mirror to reflect on your own judgments.
And I suppose I’m interested now to know whether it troubles you to read these things, to know that the rug you’re standing on so securely can be whipped out from under your feet rapidly and completely? Or do you feel safer than that? Do you assume that your foundations are more secure than mine, and that my situation is too extreme to ever befall you? Have you noted the moments when I made mistakes that you might have avoided? Do you imagine that you would have behaved with a more perfect maternal dignity in my situation, that you would be unimpeachable? Perhaps you wouldn’t have been stupid enough to lose your husband in the first place. Be careful what you assume, is what I’d say to that. Be very careful. I should know. I was married to a doctor once. I’m also interested to know how uncomfortable you feel now. Whether you’re regretting our agreement. Remember the roles we allocated each other? Me: Ancient Mariner and Narrator. You: Wedding Guest and Patient Listener. Do you wish you could shuffle away yet? Refill your glass perhaps? Now that my grip is loosening whose side are you on? Mine, or theirs? How long will you stay with the underdog, given that she’s so beaten now, so unattractive? Displaying here and there signs of mental instability.
What She Knew forces you to look at the general human tendency to vilify others and look for signs that they deserve whatever bad things happened to them. The world seems to feel too chaotic and random otherwise. It also asks if we can truly know or trust anyone. This book is a bit longer than most popular mysteries, but I really loved the satisfying mix of procedural and psychological that those added pages allowed for.
What I know now is that even after the divorce I should simply have been grateful for what I had. I should have celebrated my life as it was, imperfections, sadness, and all, and not forensically examined its faults. Those faults were largely in the eyes of a critical and sharp-edged society anyhow, and I had learned to recognize them by osmosis, by following the herd.
Quotes I thought of after reading.
“We judge ourselves by our intentions and others by their behaviour.” – Stephen M.R. Covey
Charles: So April missed the airway, huh? That’s so stupid. Lexie: Airway first. Jackson: It’s like med school 101, right? Alex: It’s pretty basic. Reed: It was one second! She got distracted for one second and she made a mistake. Charles: That we all nearly got fired for. Jackson: Nose dive’s got a point. Charles: Thank you. … What?! Alex: We nearly got fired for trying to fix what she screwed up in the first place. Cristina: Yeah, ’cause that’s our job. (to Lexie) What you didn’t make any mistakes today? (to Alex) You’ve been distracted for the entire week. (to Jackson) And who knows what you screwed up. But our patients didn’t die and that’s why we didn’t get caught. It could’ve happened to any one of us. (Grey’s Anatomy, Episode: I Saw What I Saw)