Review - Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil Melina Marchetta

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

Sometimes a book just simply drops out of nowhere straight into the best of the year list with minimal fanfare. TELL THE TRUTH, SHAME THE DEVIL is undoubtedly going to remain one of the best things I've read this year for a whole lot of reasons.

The publisher website has this summation:

"With its cast of unforgettable characters, social insight and wry wit, Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is an irresistible novel about human identity, lost children and the nature of real love."

Nails it really. TELL THE TRUTH, SHAME THE DEVIL is a psychological thriller that is cleverly constructed, beautifully executed and compelling reading.

Cleverly constructed in the way it combines a series of important, very current topics into one elegantly realised plot. TELL THE TRUTH, SHAME THE DEVIL covers the fear of terrorism in the community, alongside the need for awareness of over-reaction and over-simplification. It also considers the nature of the "other" - different races / different experiences / different backgrounds creating often unnecessary, and nearly always unworthy tension and suspicion. Combining these aspects into very personal experiences creates a series of wonderful characters, full of flaws and doubt, wracked with pain and joy, struggling with a series of life events that affect them all in different, and yet somehow similar ways.

As you'd expect the major character parts - Bish, his mother and his daughter, Violette, and her imprisoned mother are wonderfully drawn. As are the lesser parts - the other children on the bombed bus, the French police chief and his own daughter and so on right through the book. Each of these people is human, and the events that affect them sufficiently drawn out to give everyone a place in the story, and a story about their place.

Beautifully executed in the way that these characters are deftly placed in a strong plot, full of menace and threat, whilst also raising a lot of questions in reader minds. While Bish struggles with so much of his past, and the way that his life has panned out, the younger Violette has a mission of her own, with a background and family history that is poles apart from Bish's in many aspects, and disconcertingly close in others. All the while the ease with which a frightened community can become a vigilante community plays out, as does the insidiousness of assumption and wild conclusion drawing and "opinion". 

Compelling because despite the many layers in TELL THE TRUTH, SHAME THE DEVIL, this is the sort of book that readers are given permission to draw conclusions from. To see different aspects of human nature, and behaviour and reflect upon the consequences of that. Along the way you're engaged with some wonderful characters. Each and everyone of them has been allowed to be brave, single-minded, daft and dangerously self-absorbed in as many different combinations. But most of all, that searching for an explanation of our reactions to fear or difference is something that will stay with many readers.

Year of Publication

Bashir “Bish” Ortley is a London desk cop. Almost over it. Still not dealing with the death of his son years ago, as well as the break-up of his marriage. 

Across the channel, a summer bus tour, carrying a group of English teenagers is subject to a deadly bomb attack, killing four of the passengers and injuring a handful of others. Bish’s daughter is one of those on board. 

The suspect is 17 year old Violette LeBrac whose grandfather was responsible for a bombing that claimed the lives of dozens of people fourteen years ago; and whose mother, Noor, has been serving a life sentence for the part she was supposed to have played in the attack.

As Bish is dragged into the search for the missing Violette, he finds himself reluctantly working with Noor LeBrac and her younger brother, Jimmy Sarraf.

And the more he delves into the lives of the family he helped put away, the more Bish realizes that they may have got it wrong all those years ago, and that truth wears many colours. Especially when it comes to the teenagers on board the recent bus bombing. Including his daughter. 

Tell the truth. Shame the devil. Bish can’t get Violette LeBrac’s words out of his head. But what he may get is some sort of peace with his own past as the worlds of those involved in two bombings, years apart, collide into the journey of his life. 

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