Book review: All the Hidden Truths by Claire Askew

Sunday, August 19, 2018 Permalink

This book may be a bit difficult for some to read as it’s centred around a college shooting and involves parents in mourning.

However, debut author Claire Askew handles the subject – from all angles – beautifully. She doesn’t shy away from the cold hard truth, doesn’t sympathise or judge, but rather allows the greyness (of the event, the before and the after) to sneak through.

Book review: All the Hidden Truths by Claire AskewAll the Hidden Truths
by Claire Askew
Published by Hodder & Stoughton UK
on August 14th 2018
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: General Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 9781473673038
Pages: 352

This is a fact: Ryan Summers walked into Three Rivers College and killed thirteen women, then himself.

But no one can say why.

The question is one that cries out to be answered - by Ryan's mother, Moira; by Ishbel, the mother of Abigail, the first victim; and by DI Helen Birch, put in charge of the case on her first day at her new job. But as the tabloids and the media swarm, as the families' secrets come out, as the world searches for someone to blame... the truth seems to vanish.

I have to admit I hadn’t read the backcover blurb just before starting this book so the events of the first part shocked me. Particularly because we kinda ‘connect with’ two of the narrators in particular, and get a little invested in their lives, and their children, before the shooting. And it’s not much of a #spoileralert given the backcover blurb tells us so…. but both children die. Perhaps if I’d re-read the blurb I’d be less shocked, but I hadn’t so it was a big surprise to me. And maybe it’s actually best that way as it was quite powerful. (So ignore this paragraph if you’ve not read the book, and skip reading any blurbs about it!)

When we meet her Moira is skiving off her studies. She’s returned as a mature aged student after the death of her husband and decides to avoid the library, instead spending an afternoon wandering around and pondering the increasingly distant relationship with her 20yr old son.

And then there’s Ishbel who’s daughter is less withdrawn and more combative in nature. Ishbel’s marriage feels like a mess but she feels obliged to stick it out for the sake of Abigail who tends to favour her father and who’s just started college and not yet found her feet.

And then there’s newly promoted DI Helen Birch. We don’t actually learn a huge amount about Helen, other than her motivation to join the police after the disappearance of her brother 12yrs earlier. I would have probably liked a little more about her personal life but…. suspect (hope?) that this becomes a series and we get to know her more as it progresses. Certainly Askew and her editors leave the story arc around Helen’s brother open so it might be revisited, and – of course – many series (books and TV) have a similarly overarching plot.

This book’s got a really contemporary feel as Askew uses social media to further the plot and reminds us of the pros and cons of the online world. And of course the issue of school shootings is one that sadly remains with us – though less outside of the US normally. (And this is set in Scotland so even more shocking for the lynch-ready local community.)

Askew introduces a particularly loathsome journalist into the mix, who’s determined to eke as much out of the grieving families as possible and seemingly uninterested in any glimmers of hope or happiness. Instead he  desperately clings to allegations of the police’s mishandling of the shootings and gleefully digs into secrets of the shooting victims and their families for his controversial newspaper column.

I really liked that Askew writes this (and shares the experience) from three distinct points of view and avoids the usual good / bad scenario. As one can imagine, the killer’s mother – in particular – is publicly condemned and threatened. “How could she not know?” everyone asks, including the police.

Indeed, a common theme recurring throughout the novel is one of ‘there but for the grace of god go I’ (or #whatevs).

Everyone’s wondering why this happened, what makes a person turn into a monster. They’re scared because they look at a kid like Ryan Summers and think, what if, actually, he was normal? What if what happened inside him happens inside of me, and I become capable of something like that? p 99


If there was no definite why, that meant the Three Rivers shooting simply came about because one seemingly ordinary young man found himself at the intersection of a very specific set of circumstances. That idea, that under the right circumstances, anyone is capable of this was terrifying. p 171

And then of course there are the ‘what ifs’. The Sliding Doors type scenarios… if someone had just done something differently, none of this might have happened….

This is a fabulous debut which tackles a fraught topic with sensitivity and a fresh feel, and I hope for more in this series. (Though with different crimes next time around of course!)

All the Hidden Truths by Claire Askew was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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