In close-knit communities things rarely stay buried, even as time continues to move forward at its own, steady pace. This sentence fits the story found within Gilly Macmillan’s latest book, I Know You Know, quite well, and for good reason. After all, despite being a crime novel first and foremost, it is also a tale about a small neighbourhood and the secrets it’s hid.
On a sweltering summer day in 1996, three ten to eleven year-old boys took to the streets, gardens, alleyways and play areas of their far from prosperous Bristol estate. That is, all of the interesting areas that surrounded the several towers that made up their not-so-well-off English neighbourhood. Three went out to play, and the events that followed led to only one ever being able to come home. It’s the mystery surrounding what happened to the other two boys – Charlie Paige and Scott Ashby – that acts as the central focus of I Know You Know.
Like a lot of crime-based thrillers, this particular novel is told from different vantage points and jumps back and forth between two separate time periods: the present day and, of course, 1996. It does so through the eyes of its main characters, those being Charlie’s mom Jessy, Detective Inspector John Fletcher (who found the boys) and Cody Swift, the friend who survived that terrible day. However, things aren’t told in the way that we’ve become accustomed to, as Cody’s side of the story is presented in podcast form. That is, the written representation of several recorded episodes. Said podcast is named It’s Time to Tell, and is set up as a true crime investigation show. Through it, Cody is looking back at his own past, in an attempt to find new information about that summer’s terrible events. He’s doing so because he feels that the man who took the fall for the murders was innocent, though the cops vehemently disagree.
What results from this set up, and these individual characters, is a story of love, loss, pain and regret, not to mention one of secrets and forgotten memories. Although Jessy has moved on, she’s still haunted by the loss of her son, and spiraled out of control afterwards. The same is true of Cody Swift, who is still haunted by the loss of his two best friends and says that he feels regret for surviving based on an unexpected grounding. Then, there’s John Fletcher, the cop who solved it all and created some internal drama while doing so.
At the heart of this novel lays an interesting mystery, and the questions it created kept me reading, with the hope that the answers would be of substance. That didn’t end up being the case, though, because despite a solid mystery, I Know You Know falls apart near its end. The conclusion and its reveals don’t feel cohesive, nor do they feel like they were given enough thought. In truth, the word ‘rushed’ comes to mind, though I hate using it here as it feels arrogant and dismissive. I was left disappointed, though, as I was hoping for more.
The characters, themselves, are relatively interesting but not very memorable in the grand scheme of things. Jessy Paige is a haunted woman who’s made a lot of mistakes in her life, and she’s finally been able to move on thanks to a new husband and daughter. Meanwhile, Cody Swift is a very pushy investigator who will almost stop at nothing to get his answers. The past being brought back to life after so many years also brings errors to light, and makes you question police tactics, especially when they involve people who are on the fringes of society, be it due to poverty or mental illness. Or both, for that matter.
My problem with these characters is that they all end up being quite stereotypical. There’s the questionable mom, who lived on benefits and maybe could’ve taken better care of her child, the former friend who feels guilty about what happened, and a cop with questionable morals and personal ethics. Of course, they also interact with some other both shady and seemingly innocent characters, who help flesh out what is, overall, a half-decent but unspectacular story.
I Know You Know is the fourth novel from British writer, Gilly Macmillan, but was only the second one that I’d read. Last spring, I borrowed The Perfect Girl from my local library after being intrigued by its title and premise, and enjoyed it. It wasn’t great, but it was pretty good and kept me interested, even if some parts were predictable. The same was partially true of this particular novel. It’s half-decent, but nothing great, and while its writing is fine, it doesn’t stand out as being great either.
In all honesty, I went into this review with intrigue and excitement. I wanted to like this book a lot, and to be able to wholly recommend it. Great thrillers are hard to come by, and I thought that the premise behind this one had potential. In the end, though, I can’t give I Know You Know a hearty recommendation, or praise it like I wanted to. It starts off pretty well, and has its moments, but ends up being mediocre.
**This review is based on a copy of the novel that we were provided by its publisher.**