Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil reviewed by Annie


I have read all of Melina Marchetta’s young adult novels, other than her fantasy novels, and I believe her to be one of this country’s best writers for teenagers, and adults who enjoy books for this age group, like me.

When I saw that she had turned her hand to a novel for adults I was interested to read it. Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil could be read by mature teenagers, as they do feature, but from the perspective of adults rather than from their lens that her previous novels did so well.

This thriller/crime novel has many layers and many characters which at times I found hard to follow but once I was into the book I wanted to see what happened.

Chief Inspector Bish Ortley has been suspended. He then gets news that the bus his teenage daughter, Bee, is travelling on in France, has been bombed. He had ‘already identified the body of one of his children. He couldn’t do that twice in his lifetime’. He arrives on the scene to find her unharmed, but others were not so lucky.

Despite his suspension, he is made a surrogate investigator amongst the British parents of the children on the bus. Many different personalities both adult and children make for a fascinating investigation, and the clues slowly unfold.

Intriguing characters are portrayed, from the complex and flawed Bish, his ex-wife who married their children’s school principal, Bee trying to deal with her parents, the loss of her brother, the bomb attack and her new friends, Bish’s mother Saffron, and the other authorities involved in the investigation.

Bish’s heritage adds another element to the story. The issue of race is central, and seventeen-year-old Violette is the target of the investigation and a trail by media and public hysteria starts, based on circumstantial evidence, if any. Violette’s name is splashed around the media, despite being a minor. She is referred to by the Australian media, where she lives, as ‘the British-Born FrenchArab, LeBrac, who went by the name Zidane, which belonged to her Algerian grandmother’.

Her Arabic mother, Noor LeBrac, is in prison having confessed to building the bomb that was detonated in a supermarket, killing her father and twenty three others. At the time she was thirty-three and Violette was four. She had just ‘handed in a doctoral thesis on molecular biology’.

The book asks ’How many years does one’s family have to be in this country not to be a foreigner?’ It looks at the collective grief that occurs with an incident like this ‘and how it could bring out the best and the worst in a community’. Issues of justice are raised – for those seen as ‘other’, young people, the haves and the have nots, and refugees. Marchetta handles these topics with sensitivity and leaves you thinking about the world we live in today.

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