I’ve wanted to read a Melina Marchetta book for a number of years now but time just hasn’t allowed for it. So, it was with anticipation that I opened this latest (her debut novel for adults) as I loved the premise of the novel and the fact that the blurb alluded to “suspense and heart-rending drama” – two of my favourite elements in fiction.
The novel opens with suspended Chief Inspector Bashir “Bish” Ortley receiving a telephone call informing him that his daughter, Bee, has been caught up in the midst of a bus bombing in Calais, France. With his mother, Saffron, accompanying him, they make their way across the channel - thankfully, Bee is unharmed but there are others who haven’t been so lucky.
When he recognises the name of another passenger, Violette LeBrac, his senses go on high alert because he and the LeBracs have a long history of acquaintanceship through the criminal justice system but before he has an opportunity to question her, she, along with one of the other students, Eddie Conlon, disappear.
Left to figure out if the bombing was an act of terror and Violette the perpetrator, Bish is immediately drawn into the investigation, albeit in his personal capacity as a father acting as a liaison between the French police and the children’s parents. He soon finds himself taking instructions from the Home Office and as he tries to find the missing Violette and her companion, he uncovers some discrepancies in the historical case of a supermarketing bombing carried out by Violette’s grandfather, once again coming face-to-face with her imprisoned mother, Noor LeBrac.
It is during the investigation that the conflict in his personal life comes into sharp focus and he begins to realise that he’s only half the man he used to be – still grieving the loss of his son, angry at the loss of his ex-wife to another man and seeking solace in the bottle, Bish also needs to put to bed the issues he has with his mother’s indifference towards him as a child as well as try and figure out his daughter’s distant behaviour towards him.
As mentioned at the beginning of this review, I loved the premise of this novel, so I was somewhat disappointed when I got off to a bit of a slow start. Something just hooked me though so I persisted and I’m so glad that I did because at about 25% of the way in I got the connection with the characters that I was looking for!
In addition to the main plot regarding the investigation, Melina Marchetta has layered her story with some great side plots that explore the complex relationships between her characters - those between fathers and daughters, ex-husbands and wives and mothers and sons - making it more than just another crime novel.
Whilst Bish may sound like a stereotype – divorced, still grieving the loss of his son, drowning his sorrows in a bottle and recently suspended from his job at the London Met (for reasons which become clearer along the way) – he is far from that and by the end of the book, he has come almost full circle.
The things that struck me most are Melina's unfailing ear for dialogue – especially with regard to her teenage characters – and her wry wit had me snorting with laughter a number of times.
At the heart of the story though is a feeling of general resentment towards the Muslim culture that has become all too familiar since the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 and Melina paints an unflinchingly honest picture of the times that we live in, where we have all possibly been guilty of stigmatising people based on colour and religion.
A morally complex tale that is rich with authenticity, this is, on the one hand a crime novel, but on the other, it’s about the relationships and the lives of those involved with Melina exploring family, marriage and repressed grief as well as the symptoms of racial prejudice such as fear, intolerance, segregation, racial profiling, displacement and discrimination.
Despite my slow start, Melina Marchetta is a great storyteller and this novel is very definitely worth a read. I look forward to reading more from her.
I wish to thank Penguin Books Australia for providing me with an eARC galley proof of this novel.
About the Author
Melina Marchetta’s writing career took off in 1992 when she published her first novel Looking For Alibrandi. She later turned the story into a film script and the movie Looking for Alibrandi screened in theatres around Australia and the world from 2000.
Melina managed to combine writing with teaching English and History in secondary school for ten years up to 2006, when she committed to writing full-time. During that period, she released two novels, Saving Francesca and On the Jellicoe Road.
Her first fantasy novel, Finnikin of the Rock, was published in 2008.
The Piper’s Son (a companion novel to Saving Francesca) was released in 2010 and she has also written a children’s book, The Gorgon in the Gully, as part of the Puffin Pocket Money series.
Her novels have been published in 17 languages in at least 18 countries.
Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is her first adult crime novel.
Melina lives in Sydney where she writes full time.
About the Book
Melina Marchetta's gripping new novel Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is a cracking fusion of suspense and heart-rending drama.
Chief Inspector Bish Ortley of the London Met, divorced and still grieving the death of his son, has been drowning his anger in Scotch. Something has to give, and he’s no sooner suspended from the force than a busload of British students is subject to a deadly bomb attack across the Channel. Bish’s daughter is one of those on board.
Also on the bus is Violette LeBrac. Raised in Australia, Violette has a troubled background. Thirteen years ago her grandfather bombed a London supermarket, killing dozens of people. Her mother, Noor, is serving a life sentence in connection with the incident. But before Violette’s part in the French tragedy can be established she disappears.
Bish, who was involved in Noor LeBrac’s arrest, is now compelled to question everything that happened back then. And the more he delves into the lives of the family he helped put away, the more he realises that truth wears many colours.
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Pub date: 29/08/2016