If you're looking for a page-turner this summer, the you've hit the jackpot with Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil. It's a fast paced crime fiction novel that draws you in from the first chapter - you'll have it finished in a matter of days. There's a wide cast of strong characters, and these characters are used effectively to illustrate the many themes of the book, including: parent/child relationships, sibling relationships, the loss of a child, divorce, alcoholism, love and romance, grief, racial tensions and religious beliefs, teenage angst, social pressures, and bullying. (Actually, one slight criticism would be the vast number of characters that were introduced. It would have been really helpful to have had a 'family-tree' type diagram at the beginning).
So, to recap the plot...
Chief Inspector Bish Ortley is middle-aged, divorced, and still grappling with both grief and guilt stemming from the accidental death of his son. His ex-wife is expecting another man's child, and Bish's drinking habit is bordering on addiction. To make matters worse, a recent work incident had him suspended from the London Metropolitan Police. His world is shaken further when his teenage daughter Bee, traveling in France on a holiday camp, narrowly escapes death when her tour bus is blown apart by a bomb attack. Tragically, some of the other British children aren't so lucky. Bish rushes to France to be with his daughter, but quickly becomes involved in the investigation, due to his police experience.
It soon becomes apparent to Bish that one of the children present on the camp bus, Violette LeBrac Zidane, could be linked to the motive for the attack. Her grandfather Louis Serraf was responsible for a terrorist attack at a London supermarket 13 years earlier. Serraf was killed in the explosion, along with 23 innocent victims, but his daughter Noor, who is Violette's mother, is serving a life sentence for her involvement in the crime. As Bish continues his investigation into the recent French bombing attack, he finds himself face to face with the people whose lives were torn apart by the London terrorist attack all this years earlier...and the process raises more questions than answers.
One of the main themes of this book is the way that society judges people based on their skin colour, race and religion - specifically the Muslim community, and especially in the current times of Islamic extremists, ISIS terror attacks and the refugee influx. This is a very modern novel, both in terms of world events but also the rapid rise of social media: Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are integral to the story, both as a means of communication between characters, but also as a source of clues and evidence for the police investigation. Frighteningly, the book also portrays the role that social media plays in creating a tide of public opinion surrounding a police investigation, jeopardizing the basic tenet of our criminal legal system: innocent until proven guilty.
Surprisingly, this is the first time I've read anything by Melina Marchetta - a very popular Australian author with a devoted fan base, especially among young adult readers. I can see why her effortless writing style and readable prose would appeal to this age group, and although this is Marchetta's first foray into crime fiction, there is much in this novel that would appeal to her young adult followers.
As much as I loved this book, it didn't quite earn 5 stars from me. As I read, I couldn't help but make comparisons with I am Pilgrim, which I read last summer. Both are contemporary crime fiction novels that show how the rules of the game have changed forever since 9/11, but I found Pilgrim to be more deserving of the 'thriller' classification - more complex and sophisticated, and completely horrific and fantastic at the same time...definitely worthy of 5 stars. It would be my benchmark for a thriller. Nonetheless, I'd definitely recommend Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil, both for the gripping page-turner element, and for the way it addresses the highly relevant issues that are often too hard to talk about: the role of race and religion in forming opinions and judgements, the victimisation of the Muslim community, and coping with loss and grief. This is crime fiction with substance.
Reviewed by Carmen