Category: Contemporary Fiction, Crime, Murder, Mystery, Book Review
All the Hidden Truths is the story of a tragic shooting at an Edinburgh college and its aftermath. It is narrated by three women at the heart of the story – the mother of a victim and the mother of the shooter, and DI Helen Birch who is tasked in solving the case. The book is both a “knotty crime novel” and a story of grief “trying to make sense of something that defies reason”.
The three main characters are introduced individually, and the story is told from the perspective of each of them.
Moira Summers is wandering aimlessly around Edinburgh until, filled with a new purpose she decides it’s time to speak to her son. Little did she know she wouldn’t be speaking to him again, and her life was about to come crashing down around her.
Ishbel Hodgekiss was waiting for her nineteen year old daughter Abigail after football practice. Only Abigail hadn’t been to football practice and the ride home quickly escalated into an argument with Abigail hurling insults at her mother. That’s the last exchange they’ll ever have. Thenext day she hears from a colleague at work that Twitter is full of news about a college shooting.
Helen Birch is starting her new job after her promotion to Detective Inspector. On her way to work the dispatcher comes over the police radio with the report of a shooting at a nearby college, although they didn’t appear to be taking it seriously.
‘Charlie Alpha, this is CA38, DI Birch. Did I hear you right just then? A college shooting, over.’
The line crackled.
‘This is Charlie Alpha. You did, ma’am.’ He hadn’t expected her and she practically heard him flinch. ’Shots reportedly fired at a campus of Three Rivers College, but we believe it’s a hoax. Two units have been dispatched to the scene, over.’
Helen decides to check it out for herself, taking the risk of incurring the wrath of her new boss. She couldn’t believe two units had been sent to a reported shooting unarmed. It wasn’t a hoax. Ryan Summers walked into the Tweed campus refectory and began a killing spree, resulting in the deaths of thirteen females, before turning the gun on himself.
This is a very thought provoking, moving and topical story, dealing with the aftermath of a terrible tragedy from the perspectives of the police, the mother of the perpetrator and the mother of one of the victims. We know who did it, but the mystery is what drove Ryan Summers to commit such a horrific crime. Claire Askew weaves together the three differing points of view skilfully and with wonderful characterisations as the story unfolds, revealing how much social media influences the public’s assumptions and behaviour. Secrets come to light, and the emotional impact on those affected and what it takes for them to pick up the pieces of their lives and carry on is also shown to great effect. The use of tweets, posts and news articles scattered throughout the narrative are very effective. Phone hacking and intrusive behaviour by the press is also highlighted through the thoroughly despicable reporter, Grant Lockley.
A heartbreaking, disturbing and compelling debut novel. All The Hidden Truths addresses the themes of motivational forces, how a thoughtless comment can provoke an act of such enormity, and the different ways people deal with grief, betrayal and guilt.
I chose to read and review All The Hidden Truths based on an advance reader copy supplied via NetGalley and the author/publisher.
Claire Askew was born in 1986 and grew up in the rural Scottish borders. She has lived in Edinburgh since 2004, and holds a PhD in Creative Writing & Contemporary Women’s Poetry from the University of Edinburgh. Her poems have appeared in numerous publications, including The Guardian, Poetry Scotland, PANK, The Edinburgh Review and Be The First To Like This: New Scottish Poetry (Vagabond Voices, 2014), and have been selected twice for the Scottish Poetry Library’s Best Scottish Poems of the Year. In 2013 she won the International Salt Prize for Poetry, and in 2014 was runner-up for the inaugural Edwin Morgan Poetry Award for Scottish poets under 30. She runs the One Night Stanza blog, and collects old typewriters (she currently has around 30).