Chief Inspector Bish Ortley of the London Met, divorced, grieving his son, has been drowning his anger in Scotch. Across the channel, a bus tour, carrying a group of English teenagers is bombed, killing four of the passengers and injuring a handful of others. Bish’s daughter is one of those on board.
Also on the bus is Violette LeBrac. 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 he realises that truth wears many colours.
Let’s be honest guys when I hear that Melina Marchetta has a new novel out I’m going to read it regardless of what genre it is. Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil is no exception. I don’t normally read thrillers, or mysteries or crime fiction. I love those types of stories at TV shows or films, but I’ve never really read any as books, especially not adult books so before I even started I knew this was going to be a stretch for me.
But Melina did what she always does and that’s write an exceptional novel, full of intriguing characters and captivating plot lines that keep you reading well into the wee hours of the morning all the while bawling your eyes out from all the feels her writing gives you.
Damm you Melina for writing such amazing prose!
What I Loved
The Plot & Melina’s Writing
The whole shape of this novel is like a rollercoaster, right from the start you realise there is so much going on, multiple characters intersecting at different points alongside two major plotlines, one following the investigation into the bombing in France and the other delving into the LeBrac family and the investigation that put Noor away.
This story will constantly keep you on the edge of your seat, the switching between character’s point of view really adds another layer of intrigue and mystery. Melina writes those scenes with careful detail, purposefully leaving out key details which are later revealed. So the character points of view that aren’t our main protagonist, Bish’s, are carefully constructed to add to the mystery further driving the plot.
For example, when Violette goes missing she takes another student with her and a major question asked is why? Early on the reader learns that there is a major reason why she did this and it’s hinted at when her Uncle first see’s Eddie and is floored by looking at him, but never says why. It’s carefully worded scenes like this one that kept me reading because I wanted to know why Eddie was so important and what role he had to play in the larger story.
If you’ve heard of Melina Marchetta, you’ve probably heard about her skill with writing compelling and incredibly gut-wrenching relationships. This book is no exception.
I loved exploring the relationship between Bish and his daughter, Bee. They’ve lost contact since his son died and his wife remarried. So for a large part of the book, they are working towards rebuilding a relationship and it was heartbreaking for Bish because he felt so removed from her life, and the dark experiences she’s had since her brother died.
Another favourite relationship of mine was between Violette and Charlie. He started as a character that I despised. He was Violette’s boyfriend before the book started but after learning of her history he dropped her so fast. But Melina did what she does best and writes characters that wiggle their way into your heart and as you learn more about them you realise, no one’s perfect and the person you thought you hated is actually not a terrible person, just suffering from terrible circumstances. They aren’t a major pairing in the book but they have this moment near the end where they finally have a real conversation and it still managed to give me all the feels.
Race, Racism & Religion
The three R’s that many authors find difficult tackling. Melina managed to tackle all three with ease. She often writes about characters that come from different backgrounds to the country they are in and the problems that arise from that. Bish is a man with an Algerian background, who never really learnt much about his heritage and for the most part blocked out that side of his life. It’s only when he’s forced to confront the idea that his views might be hindering his ability to get his job done does he own up to the idea that he has his own prejudices.
I found the way Melina wrote about these difficult topics really enjoyable. Sure she’s writing about characters that are at times racist or show prejudice towards one another, but she isn’t showing a lesson on acceptance down your throat or bashing characters for having those opinions. Rather demonstrating what life is like for people on both sides and showing how someone can learn that they just are racist, and learn to change the way they think.
Many different difficult ideas are explored in Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil. Race and racism are just one of those. One particularly hard one is the fear that comes about when something horrific occurs, like a bomb attack and how people are quick to jump to conclusions and blame someone who comes from a different or minority background without having all the facts.
Melina doesn’t say that terrorist can’t be from a middle eastern background, but rather that terrorists can come from any race, be a part of any religion and be born anywhere.
And I really appreciated the distinction, especially in a day and age where that idea seems to be forgotten a lot.
What I Didn’t Like
The Cast of Characters
Now I don’t mean I didn’t like the characters, more so that there was SO MANY of them. It was a little bit like a George RR Martin book where you spend more time keeping track of all the characters names than you do reading the plot and then find yourself banding your head on the table because you have no idea what’s going on. I know you’ve felt this way too.
There are a few creative ways to get around this that I think could’ve made such a huge difference. One idea I had was to incorporate some images inside the book, Bish is a detective and we as the reader spend a lot of time reading about him pouring over his notes. Why not include some of those notes for the reader, like crime scene notes or lists or family trees (the family tree would have been so useful keeping track of LeBrac family). Some visual elements could’ve been an added layer to the story, I was imagining something like what the Illuminae Files did, but just a few tiny sections (a page or two) of notes.
It wasn’t a huge issue or something that made me want to stop reading, but it did mean I as a reader had to work a bit harder to keep track of all the names and people’s relations to one another.
Why you should read it
If you’re looking for a book with a mystery that takes you down the rabbit hole, searching for answers and keeps you on the edge of your seat, this book is for you. It explores characters and difficult topics with ease and while it hits you right where it hurts emotionally, the writing is so beautiful and carefully chosen you’ll be handing Melina praise while cursing her name.
Give this mystery/thriller a go and you won’t be disappointed.
5 stars out of 5
On a side note, if any of you booklovers happen to be in Adelaide this coming March, Melina will be speaking at the Adelaide Writers Week (as part of the Adelaide Festival). Her talk is on the 9th of March at 5pm. Check out their website for more info. Hope to see some of you there 🙂