Book Review: No One Knows by J.T. Ellison

Book Cover - No One Knows by J.T. Ellison

Sometimes I just can’t find thrillers thrilling, or even interesting until the very end. Sadly, No One Knows by J.T. Ellison was one of those for me.

Aubrey Hamilton’s husband went missing five years ago, on the eve of his best friend’s wedding. His disappearance made Aubrey a prime suspect in the case and turned her life upside down. Now, five years, later Josh has officially been declared dead. His life insurance is paying out, and she and her mother-in-law are at odds once again.

But then a stranger shows up, and Aubrey is immediately taken in by how much he looks like Josh, leading her to believe that her missing husband may still be alive. As the story begins to unspool, questions about their relationship come into play, as well as some long kept family secrets. As the story begins to unspool, questions about their relationship come into play, as well as some long kept family secrets. 

Oh, No One Knows, you sounded so good on paper! I really wanted to like you! But, that just didn’t come to pass! 

I love a good thriller, but I think between watching so many episodes of Criminal Minds, and analyzing Pretty Little Liars for the past year at Tell-Tale TV, it’s hard to pull the wool over my eyes. When it comes to No One Knows, I really wanted to like it. The premise sounds great, it sounds like it has a great hook. The thing is, I feel like the novel falls into holes and doesn’t know how to climb out.

To start, I felt like the book spent a lot of time going through internal strife with Aubrey and Daisy’s relationship, which in the end, had very little to do with the story at large. 

The first half of the book shifts back and forth between, not just characters, but different time periods. We see teenage Josh and Aubrey, and we see Aubrey in the five years since Josh disappeared. Sometimes, this method of storytelling felt a little bit disorganized. While I can appreciate that memory isn’t linear and often disjointed, these snapshots of Josh and Aubrey’s relationship felt more like a meditation on a relationship than a contribution to a page-turning thriller. 

There was also the issue of the main character, who I never really felt connected to. Aubrey is introduced as a Montessori schoool teacher who moonlights at a coffee shop, but after the first few chapters the school is never mentioned again, and the coffee shop referenced only a few times. I practically forget that she has any other function than to sleep with Chase and follow leads about the fact that her now-officially-declared-dead husband may be alive. 

I like Aubrey’s relationships with Josh and Chase, and I think that they could have been unpacked a little more deftly. So much of her initial attraction makes me uneasy. We see her slide very easily into a relationship with Chase, the mysterious stranger who resembles her husband the same day Josh is declared dead. But we never really get an idea of what that is like for her beyond the trial. We are told a lot of things, but we don’t see her struggle with a revelation that he is likely dead.  

This is something that I absolutely dislike in thrillers. A character who should have a fleshed out life at the beginning of the novel suddenly finds it stripped bare it to chase a burning question. Yes, the school has significance and the coffee shop is where she runs into Chase, again, but that’s really it. And then as the novel starts to unfold, I just have more questions, and the plot seems more unbelievable. 

And as the twists are revealed I had the feeling that it was more as a means to get to a desired ending. When I mull it over, the story seems to work in theory, but in practice, the book leaves a lot to be desired.I ultimately feel like the first half of the book is wasted by dedicating several chapters to the state and history of Aubrey and Daisy’s relationship.

Yes, we get it, his mother and wife didn’t get along! But the fact that the first half of the book keeps bringing that up makes the entire novel feel a little disjointed. On one hand, this book could have been a beautiful internal struggle about two women morning the most important man in their lives, or it could have been an evenly paced slow burn thriller. Instead, it seems to be divided right down the middle, with several revelations rushed in the later half of the book.

Above all, what I can’t get over the sense of betrayal I feel when I read the epilogue and find that suddenly the characters seem to have gotten more interesting. I had a similar reaction when I read The Couple Next Door last year!


No One Knows by J.T. Ellison is now available wherever books are sold. You can purchase a copy at Book Depository, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or at your local independent bookseller

You can add No One Knows to your Goodreads list here


Published by Lauren Busser

Lauren Busser is a fiction writer and essayist. She is an associate editor at Tell-Tale TV, where she writes about all things tv. She has had fiction appear in five : 2 : one magazine’s #thesideshow and her nonfiction has appeared in Bitch Media and The Hartford Courant. You can find her talking about tv, film, and knitting on Twitter @LaurenBusser.

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