Author: Melina Marchetta
Date of Publication: August 29th, 2016
Source: Review copy and purchased by reviewer
Chief Inspector Bish Ortley of the London Met, divorced and still grieving the death of his son, has been drowning his anger in Scotch. Something has to give, and he’s no sooner suspended from the force than a busload of British students is subject to a deadly bomb attack across the Channel. Bish’s daughter is one of those on board.
Also on the bus is Violette LeBrac. Raised in Australia, Violette has a troubled background. Thirteen years ago her grandfather bombed a London supermarket, killing dozens of people. Her mother, Noor, is serving a life sentence in connection with the incident. But before Violette’s part in the French tragedy can be established, she disappears.
Bish, who was involved in Noor LeBrac’s arrest, is now compelled to question everything that happened back then. And the more he delves into the lives of the family he helped put away, the more he realises that truth wears many colours.
This is Marchetta's first book specifically aimed at adults, although her books have long had crossover appeal. Like all of her stories, this is primarily about family and what happens when families breakdown, or when someone in your family does something unthinkable.
Tell the Truth is ostensibly the story of Bish Ortley, a disgraced police inspector who is serving out his suspension by touring the local pubs and bottle shops. When he gets a phone call from an old school friend to say there's been a bomb on a bus in Calais, the same bus his daughter, Bee, is on he drops everything to head across the Channel to make sure she's okay.
When he gets there he finds out that one of the passengers is linked to a notorious family involved in bombing a London supermarket years earlier. Naturally, she's a suspect, so when she and a younger boy disappear, Bish finds himself involved in the search. Balancing the Home Office, the other families involved, the French authorities and his own daughter isn't easy, particularly when all he wants is a drink.
But the story isn't just about Bish. There are several points of view in this story, and each character's story is beautifully developed. These stories are entwined in sometimes surprising ways, and even those who seem to be villains garner the reader's sympathy.
It is a multi-generational story, with younger and older characters sharing the spotlight, and the threads of the story travel back several generations. There is an acknowledgement that the characters are shaped by their own past, as well as that of their parents, grandparents, etc. This is not a story that happens in an isolated moment, it's a story with a rich history, and that really comes across on the page.
This is a mystery, and it's a compelling one, but the whodunit elements almost come second to the relationships and personal development of the characters. That said, the climax is thrilling and had me on the edge of my seat.
I read this book in a day. I just had to know what happened.
Brilliant writing, beautiful storytelling. If you're a fan of Melina Marchetta's work already then you will love this. If you're not, then this is an excellent starting point.