‘What Can’t Be Seen’ Dr Gretchen White #2 by Brianna Labuskes

Psychologist and criminologist Dr. Gretchen White, top consultant for the Boston PD, has solved countless cases—but never her own. Since the age of eight, she has lived her life thinking she killed her aunt. After all, she was found standing over the body, clutching a bloody knife. Most people, including Detective Patrick Shaughnessy, believe the little sociopath got away with murder. Thirty years later, Detective Lauren Marconi wants to prove them wrong.

When plucking at the threads of the past unravels a decades-old case tied to the White family, both Lauren and Gretchen grapple with the question, What if Gretchen really is guilty? As old secrets come to light and Gretchen’s lifelong grip on her darkest impulses threatens to erode, Shaughnessy is there watching, waiting for her to lose control one more time.

Everyone thinks they know what happened that night. But the truth is beyond what anyone imagines—even Gretchen herself.

The first book in this series, ‘A Familiar Sight completely captured me. I spent an entire weekend mesmerised by it. It was fresh and original, brilliantly told in lean focused prose, full of surprises and it had a main character, Dr Gretchen White, who was unashamedly different – a ‘voluntarily non-violent’ sociopath. And she was the one investigating the murders, not committing them. The relationship that built up between her and her Police Detective ‘babysitter’ Lauren Marconi was one of the strengths of the book. Marconi’s ability to see beyond White’s reputation and her outward aggression and to build a basis for trust gave emotional depth to the book.

So how do you write a sequel to a book like that and still deliver something fresh? Well, if you’re Brianna Labuskes, you do it by putting White under so much pressure that she’s likely to crack, by putting Marconi’s trust in her under strain and by revealing a backstory that made me question everything I thought I’d learned about Gretchen White in the first book.

The book opens with Marconi trying to pull White out of the pattern of depression and self-destructive behaviour that she fell into after the events in ‘A Familiar Sight’ by getting her to focus on solving a challenging cold case: her own.

I knew from the previous book that, as a child, Gretchen White had been the prime suspect in the murder of her mother and that the policeman who investigated her case, Detective Shaughnessy, still dogs White’s heals, treating her as someone who got away with murder once and will eventually murder again. Marconi wants to prove Shaughnessy wrong.

What follows is a fairly intense, plot-driven, thriller which uses two and, on one occasion, three timelines to unwrap what really happened on the night that Gretchen White was found standing next to a corpse with a bloody knife in her hand; a night that White is unable to remember.

The plot has even more surprises than I expected. One of the timelines is told from Detective Shaughnessy’s point of view. He was a new Detective at the time and was the first person on the scene of the murder. One involves meeting with Gretchen White’s family in the present day and trying to pry open their secrets.

The suspense kept taught throughout. Every revelation produces more doubt, uncertainty and mistrust, especially as the evidence of White’s guilt builds. The ending caught me by surprise but made perfect sense.

As a surprise-laden thriller, this book worked very well. I felt that characterisation was a little overwhelmed by the plot at times. I think that moving back and forth between timelines, especially when Gretchen White is a child in one of them, meant that the relationship between White and Marconi wasn’t as much at the forefront of things as in the previous book. That was mostly offset by the introduction of strong and frankly scary characters from White’s family and by getting a more intimate understanding of Shaughnessy’s history and motivations.

Although I didn’t find ‘What Can’t Be Seen’ to be as compelling as ‘A Familiar Sight’, it was still a well-above-average thriller.

I’ve already pre-ordered the third and I think final book in the series ‘See It End’, which is due for release in April 2023.

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