Melina Marchetta’s Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is a fast-paced thriller that jumps between both sides of the English Channel. The story begins in London, where suspended desk cop Bashir “Bish” Ortley is grappling with the death of his son and the disintegration of his marriage. Across the channel, a bus carrying a group of British teenagers is subject to a deadly bomb attack and Bish discovers that his daughter is one of those on board. The main suspect is 17-year-old Violette LeBrac, whose grandfather blew up a supermarket thirteen years ago, and whose mother is serving a life sentence in prison for allegedly planning the attack. As Bish is dragged into the search for missing Violette, he finds himself reluctantly working with her mother and begins to wonder if justice was actually served all those years ago.
I picked up this book after one of my coworkers mentioned that it was her favourite crime read of 2016, but I have to say that I was a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I think Melina Marchetta is a fantastic writer and I am a huge fan of her YA novels, but I think this one missed the mark by a bit.
My first criticism of this book is that the plot is highly convoluted. I had a lot of trouble keeping track of all of the characters and their respective backstories, and there are a lot of plotholes. For example, I really don’t think that a suspended London desk cop would ever be allowed to collaborate with MI5 on a serious bombing case, especially if his own daughter were involved in the attack. But whatever… good story > procedural accuracy, right?
My other main criticism is that this book lacks a lot of subtlety. One of the key themes explored is racial profiling, particularly the treatment of those of Arab/Middle Eastern descent by police authorities. This is an important issue, don’t get me wrong. But I thought that it was explored so heavy-handedly that the resolution of the story was clear to me from the very first chapter.
Despite these criticisms, I thought that the characters in this book were well-constructed and interesting, especially the teenage characters. Often, teenage characters in adult crime novels have absolutely no depth, but Marchetta has a real knack for writing complex and believable teenagers.
Overall, this book was a miss for me, but I know a lot of people who loved it. I think that Marchetta is great at exploring family relationships and creating interesting characters, but not so suited to the thriller/mystery genre.
Have you read this book? What did you think? How does it compare to her YA novels? Would love to hear from you.