All the Hidden Truths: The fiercely gripping thriller that likes women

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‘All the Hidden Truths’ by Claire Askew examines toxic culture in a compassionate and relentless psychological thriller.

Claire Askew’s harrowing debut thriller explores the aftermath of an Edinburgh school shooting in which a male student shoots thirteen victims, all of them young women, then takes his own life.

Three women must piece together the events and their consequences: the mother of the murderer, the mother of the first victim, and the Detective Inspector assigned to the investigation. Their nuanced personal perspectives reveal the scope of the tragedy from all angles, and the Edinburgh setting makes the event feel so close to home. Tragedy, grief and loss can happen on your doorstep. There is no room for complacency, a sense of “it could never happen here.” It is so important to feel, to care, when terrible things happen.

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As investigation ensues into the school shooting and motivations behind it, Claire Askew’s affinity with and respect for women shines through, as is evinsced in her previous Bloodaxe Books poetry collection, This Changes Things. Her understanding of families, of teenage and older women, of women seeking independence and connection in all its forms, is deep. The reader can feel Moira’s pain as she struggles to understand how her son could have killed thirteen people. Ishbel’s mourning for her increasingly distant daughter Abigail, the first victim, is palpably intertwined with her need to explore her own place in life. And DI Helen Birch must contend with ghosts from her own past as she follows her leads, sometimes uncomfortably made to feel conscious of her position as a woman on the Force.

What immediately becomes clear in this wrenching page-turner – the one you end up glued to, that made me miss a train stop THREE TIMES IN ONE JOURNEY – is that Claire Askew writes with nuance. If there is a living villain in the book, it must be the hugely vile journalist who harrasses DI Birch and uses community grief and fear to suit his own ends. Askew makes clever use of ‘online’ news articles (complete with links and social media calls to action) which twist facts into hideous tabloid caricatures, presented with grotesquely aggresive and emotive tabloid journalism of the most predatory kind.

The palette of this compassionate psychological thriller contains no primary colours. And that is a relief. That feels so important. Given the nature of the crime, this is not a whodunnit. It is a whydunnit, and it doesn’t insult the reader by offering pat answers, even as some of the possible motives for the killing are revealed. Rather, it helps us ask questions about toxic culture that need to be asked.

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