This review contains spoilers for Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil by Melina Marchetta.
Melina Marchetta is one of those writers that can do any genre. She’s done teen fiction in the form of Looking for Alibrandi and fantasy in terms of The Lumatere Chronicles. But now, she’s trying her hand at crime fiction with Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil.
Set in the United Kingdom, Chief Inspector Bish Ortley used to have a happy family. He had a wife, and two children, but when his youngest child drowns, everything begins to fall apart. His wife marries the school principal, he’s been suspended from his job and his daughter decides to go on an 8-day tour of Normandy to get away from everything.
It is here everything changes. A bomb goes off on his daughter’s bus and everyone thinks that her roommate was the target. After all, she is Violette LeBrac, granddaughter of the Brackenham bomber and the daughter of the woman who made the bomb that killed 23 people in a supermarket.
Bish rushes to the scene, and ends up working on the investigation, which gets all the more complicated when Violette and another kid from the tour disappear. It’s a race against time, and Bish seems to be the only copper who actually has Violette’s best interest at heart.
The story is overwhelming, forcing you to consider the faults in the justice system. Violette Lebrac is of Middle Eastern descent, and it is because of that she is automatically pursued as a person of interest. It prompts a look at society, where even Australia’s own Minister for Immigration has said that Lebanese-Muslims perhaps shouldn’t have been allowed to resettle in Australia. It makes you sick to your stomach that people are prosecuted based on what they look like. In the first few chapters, a chaperone of the trip calls Violette and the boy she runs away with, Eddie Conlon, “the same sort of foreign.” It is supremely frustrating and reflective of the current political climate, where people are afraid of what’s different thanks to politicians pointing the other out as a problem. The other is not the problem. It’s bigots, and this story really hits home in showcasing this.
However, the story also makes you understand the amount of pressure that policing bodies go through, from the media, the people who run the country, the general public and those who are victims. Whilst it isn’t an excuse for bad investigation, it does demonstrate how they occur and the damage that it does to the families that it happens to. Violette lost her mother to the prison system, her father died because of the press, her uncle is trapped in France, her family never got to say goodbye to her grandmother and she’s forced to live on the other side of the world with her other set of grandparents. It is enough to make you pray that you will never be caught in a situation like that.
The biggest aspect of the story, however, is a lesson that everybody deals with loss differently – whether it is death or being torn away from your family. Some people become distant, some turn to alcohol, some become hard and some care more deeply for people than anyone else. No way is the right way, except being alone sucks. Support systems are crucial.
The writing will draw you in straight away, and whilst sometimes the back and forth story line will leave you a little confused, you’ll find yourself cheering all the characters on in no time. Melina Marchetta, you’ve broken my heart with your words once again.