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Review: Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil

Sarah Biggerstaff

Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is the latest book from celebrated Australian author, Melina Marchetta (author of Looking for Alibrandi, Saving Francesca, and On the Jellicoe Road, among other titles).

Though it utilises many of the qualities which typify the crime genre, Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil defies easy classification. It brings together all Marchetta’s trademark themes; family, relationships, identity, and the quest for self-knowledge, at the same time including hyper-modern crime noir characteristics.

The novel brings together many narrative threads, and could easily become difficult to follow, with its broad cast of characters and use of multi-perspective narration. However, Marchetta’s writing is so clear and engrossing, her characters so vivid and diverse that each has a unique voice that fully engages the reader’s attention and makes the shifting narrative perspective easy to follow.

At the heart of the novel is the quest to solve a crime, which may be a mindless act of terrorism, or, more worryingly, a targeted attack on the teenage daughter of a convicted terrorist. For Bish Ortley, a police Chief Inspector with the London Metropolitan Police, the bombing of a bus carrying British teens in France becomes personal when he learns that his daughter was on the bus. Though battling his own personal demons, Bish seeks to get to the heart of the incident and uncovers links to both his own past and a bombing in London which sent shockwaves through an entire community thirteen years earlier. More than just a crime novel, Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil probes questions of family, asking how much control we have over our own relationships, and how well we really know those we are closest to. It’s about questioning the judgements we so easily make in our day to day lives, and what the fallout from those judgements might be.

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Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is a truly engrossing book, and each time I came to the close of a chapter I kept telling myself ‘just one more’, until I found that several hours had passed in the world Marchetta has created. She has truly nailed the ‘cliff-hanger’ style of writing, that pushes you to keep reading, and offers just enough reveals to keep you guessing throughout the entire novel, only to be thrilled and surprised right up until its unexpected close. There is nothing gratuitous about this novel however, and all the characters have a great deal of heart, especially Bish, the novel’s well meaning, but deeply flawed and fragile protagonist.

This is a novel very much of the moment, with its use of social media and references to contemporary social issues. Yet there is nothing strained or artificial about it. The characters are wonderfully crafted and completely sympathetic, and even the less attractive ones smack of everyday life, and will probably remind you of people you know. While not exactly what I would call a ‘light’ read, this novel is ideal reading at any time, though fair warning, if you plan to read it during your morning commute, be prepared to spend the entire itching to get back to it.

You can find Tell The Truth, Shame The Devil at Muse Canberra.

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Sarah Biggerstaff

Sarah Biggerstaff is a literary enthusiast, from Canberra, with a Masters degree in English Literature from the University of York in the United Kingdom. She is currently in her first year of an English PhD, the focus of which is British women’s fiction from the inter-war period, with a particular interest in feminist readings of these novels. Sarah hopes to one day write books, as well as review them, and in the meantime, is happy sharing her passion for books with others.

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