What is this about?: The search for the person or persons who placed a bomb on a school bus filled with UK teens on a trip to France. With links to a bombing that occurred years ago, the book becomes an investigation into the past, and bringing new secrets to light.
What else is this about?: Family. The ones that break apart under the weight of the grief, and the ones that stick together despite their immense grief. It’s also about the family you make when the one you’re born into is fracturing.
Should you read this?: Yes. Drop everything and go read this.
Blurb: 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.
Tell the truth, Shame the Devil starts as a search for Violette and Eddie, two kids who go on the run after a bus is bombed on a school trip. But, as the book progresses, Marchetta slowly but surely begins to peel back the layers of a larger story, one that began with another bombing years ago.
The thing to understand though, is that family is at the centre of this story: whether the family is broken because it cannot survive the death of a child, or it’s broken by the action of one member of a family. And it’s about the family you make when your biological one is driving you crazy.
Bashir, or Bish as he’s called when you want to blend into UK society without calling attention to how other (Egyptian) you are, is the character holding these threads together. He is a cop (suspended) who hasn’t been able to deal with his son’s death, and that resulted in his divorce and almost-estrangement from his daughter. His daughter, Bee, is behaving like any daughter watching her family fall apart would and just barely holding herself together. That is to say, she reaches levels of ‘brat’ before the narrative makes you realise she’s so much more than that.
Bee is on a school trip to France when Bish gets word a bomb exploded on her bus. Rushing to the scene, he quickly finds out that Violette Le Brac, the granddaughter of a bomber that died in his own explosion years ago was on the bus, and for no other reason, she is immediately cast as a suspect in this bombing. However, she and another boy Eddie, escape the net of media and cops at the bomb site into the UK and go on the run even as the media attention around her and her notorious family intensifies. Race and the fear present in our society these days of anyone not fitting the image of what it is to be English, or Australian for that matter, is also a running thread in the book. You’ve read it over and over already in the news, and Marchetta pulls no punches in how wrong the media can get things.
And as it turns out, that old bombing case is one that Bish was part of, which means that he’s in unique position to be of help to the government agents suddenly very interested in the case — he’s a cop, father of a bombing victim and part of the case that brought down Violette’s grandfather all those years ago.
All of which means, he works doggedly to earn the trust of the parents mourning their children or sitting by their bedsides, and the trust of the Le Brac family and friends, who still see him as one of those cops, one of those that forced a confession when there was nothing to confess.
So, the bombing and finding Violette and Eddie is the main plot thread in this story, it is through Bish’s investigations that you’ll begin to understand that this book is about family. For example, his own. He can still make his ex, Rachel, laugh, but she is happy with her new husband. He can still get Bee to talk to him, but she won’t tell him everything and into his mix, is his mother Saffron, who is a force of nature in her own way, and who he is still angry with for her actions decades ago. Marchetta draws a picture of a man who is still mourning the loss of his family, and finally begins to understand it might be the best thing for them all.
Bish’s family and their complicated relationships are more than enough to make for a compelling story, but Marchetta is a marvel as she takes him to meet the families of the teens hurt by the bomb, letting us see the mothers who bond over their grief, even if one husband is a raging bigot. Then there’s the jock, the guy no one thinks much of, not even his family, but is so much more given half a chance. There’s the young man, with a mother he loves, but needs to hide, and Bish is the middle of them all, listening and trying to provide some comfort and assurance. What could have been long, drawn out interactions are so much more as she deftly imbues them with character and colour even though they are secondary characters in this novel.
Like I said — family. Every different kind counts. The kids themselves are diverse and as realised as they can be in the short time they are the focus in the novel. They’re angry and grieving, but they’re also kind and understanding, and band together because who else will understand what they’re going through? Not Bish, as much as he wants and not their parents.
The other family that takes centre stage is the Le Brac family — the family of the supermarket bomber all those years ago left behind to reap the consequences of his actions. By far the most compelling is Noor Le Brac. She confessed in the aftermath of the bombing to helping make the bomb, and has been in prison ever since. Noor dominates every scene she is in, and above all else she is fiercely devoted to her family and to her daughter, Violette.
Seeing Noor again, I think, catches Bish off guard, as, well, she does in general. Prison hasn’t broken her, but what happened to her family while she was in prison did. Interestingly, this story seems to be also in part a way for her to put herself back together. She is utterly compelling, even in prison where she can only react to what information is given to her — and Bish, as he brings all her secrets to light.
It’s only fitting, that of the teens Violette and Bee take much of the focus in this book. Like her mother, Noor, Violette is formidable as she makes her way into the UK in order to see her family there. Raised in Australia, her only contact with her mother and her UK family has been the phone. As the book progresses, it becomes crystal clear how much Violette will do for her family, how much she loves them despite their separation.
Bee on the other hand, much like Bish, finds herself trying to navigate the aftermath of her brother’s death and what happened to her family as a result. She’s harbouring secrets of her own, ones her parents suspect and we learn a little about how she experiences being different, and navigating the confusion it brings out in her. We see her start as standoffish brat, before the narrative slowly begins to help her, Bish and her mother Rachel, repair themselves.
If everyone (every family) breaks apart during the course of the book, the ending brings them together in a different shape. The book is about the love of family, and what we will do to ensure their safety, even if it means sacrificing ourselves for them.
I finished this book emotionally wrung out — it’s my first Melina Marchetta book, and I can’t imagine any of her YA titles would be any different! It’s only the only book recently where I’ve been searching desperately to see if it’s the first in a series, because I don’t want to leave Bish, Bee, or Noor and Violette.
What was your first Melina Marchetta book? And will your next be Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil? Which by the way, it out today so drop everything and go get it!