Review: ON THE JAVA RIDGE by Jock Serong

This book almost doesn’t belong here on this blog devoted to Australian crime fiction but its author is Australian and the book is, in part, a thriller. And there are plenty of criminal acts depicted in it. Or things that would be criminal if that word’s definition didn’t change at the whim of the powerful. So here it is. 

Warning: I don’t normally curse in my reviews. But sometimes only a curse will suffice. If that upsets you, do not read on.

A disparate group of refugees from the Middle East pay for an Indonesian fishing boat to take them to Australia. There are rumours and half-truths about what might await them: detention camps perhaps. Worse? But they are fleeing persecution, torture and heaven only knows what else. It’s not really a choice in the commonly accepted meaning of the term.

Isi Natoli is skippering the Java Ridge for a group of seven of surfers looking for their slice of the surfing nirvana the waters around Indonesia are known for. Her partner Joel, the surfing legend who usually acts as skipper for these trips, has gone to Australia in a last-ditch attempt to wrangle some finances to keep their struggling business going.

In Australia there is a Federal election a week away. The party in government (Serong doesn’t identify which one but it is depressing as fuck to realise our major parties have converged so closely that it could be either of them) wants to win. At all costs. Cassius Calvert, former Olympic rower and current Minister for Border Integrity (a fictional but entirely plausible portfolio) announces new, tougher border controls which include the outsourcing of at-sea monitoring and a blanket refusal to allow Australian vessels to engage with foreign ones. Including for the purposes of rescue.

Somehow ON THE JAVA RIDGE managed to be so tense I had to stop reading to slow my breathing a couple of times, yet be so awfully, depressingly inevitable that I had to physically will myself to read through to the end. As if by not looking the outcome could be deferred or different. Alas that seems to have stopped working when I was about six. Of course some of the action is obvious: we know the two boats are going to intersect for example, but that doesn’t detract from the strong narrative pull of the book. Each of these stories, even the politician’s, is utterly compelling.

A lot of that is to do with the characters. The ‘stars’, including Isi, Calvert and also 9 year old Roya who has fled Afghanistan with her pregnant mother, each offer a unique and often unexpected window into their respective communities. Unlike almost everyone in Canberra these days Calvert is not a career politician, Isi is not the regular skipper of a surfing charter boat and not even Andrew Bolt could view Roya as the-potential-terrorist-in disguise that we’ve been led to believe all asylum seekers are. Given this book tackles the hottest of hot-button issues the choice to use these somewhat unorthodox characters as the primary way into the action is a master stroke. One of many. That doesn’t mean the more usual types of people who populate each world aren’t depicted, but for the most part Serong has chosen not to confront readers with them. Or at least not continuously. I think that’s the aspect of the book that might make it possible to get someone who isn’t already of the same political opinion as the author’s to read more than a few pages of this book.

Because there is absolutely no doubt where Serong sits on the issue of refugees and Australia’s current policies with respect to them. ON THE JAVA RIDGE is a polemic. Serong is, I think, genuinely outraged. That word has lost its meaning since outrage has become a weird kind of currency in modern culture but this is the real deal. The disbelief, fury and impotence at not being able to make people see is palpable. The story aims a giant, high wattage spotlight on the absurdity, banality and outright bullshit that falls from politician’s mouths on this subject. Presumably so that readers might all see. I have no clue if it will work on those who don’t already.

If it is possible to love and hate something at the same time then that’s how I feel about ON THE JAVA RIDGE. I love its heart and the way it let me see into new environments and its unrelenting tension. And the writing. Serong is a craftsman. But I hate that it had to be written. And that its vaguely futuristic sensibility isn’t nearly fictional enough to give me any comfort.


Publisher Text Publishing, 2017
ISBN 9781925498394
Length 312 pages
Format paperback
Source of review copy Borrowed from the library

Review: THE SUSPECT, Michael Robotham – audio book

 Synopsis (author website)

Joseph O’Loughlin appears to have the perfect life – a beautiful wife, a loving daughter and a successful career as a clinical psychologist. But nothing can be taken for granted. Even the most flawless existence is only a loose thread away from unravelling. All it takes is a murdered girl, a troubled young patient and the biggest lie of his life.

When an unknown young woman is found dead with multiple stab wounds – all of them self-inflicted – the police ask Joe to help them understand the crime. Are they dealing with a murder or a suicide? Reluctantly, he agrees to help and the brutalised body he views at the mortuary turns out to be someone he knows: Catherine Mary McBride, a nurse and former colleague.

At the same time, Joe is grappling with a troubled young patient, Bobby Moran, whose violent dreams are becoming more real. As Bobby’s behaviour grows increasingly erratic, Joe begins to ponder what he’s done in the past and what he might do next. Is there a link between his terrible dreams and Catherine McBride?

Caught in a complex web of deceit and obsessed by images of the slain girl, Joe embarks upon a search that takes him into the darkest recesses of the human mind. Ultimately, he will risk everything to unmask the killer and save his family..

My Take

If you follow my blog you will know that I have read this title before, much closer to the date of original publication (2004).

It is the book that introduced British psychologist Professor Joseph O’Loughlin and his creator Australian writer Michael Robotham to the crime fiction world. Now the Joseph O’Loughlin/ Vincent Ruiz series has 8 titles and Robotham has produced another 4 stand-alones. He has won many awards, been translated into a myriad of languages, and even become the basis of a German TV series. (What an irony it will be if in Australia we have to view a translated version!)

Listening to this excellent audio version, unabridged of course, has given me a new appreciation of what a startling new voice Robotham was.  The writing is crisp and tight, the plot multi-stranded, but somehow all coming together at the end.

So, if you haven’t read any of this series yet, there is no better place to start – at the beginning.
I will be downloading the unabridged version of #2 in the series: LOST (aka THE DROWNING MAN).

Rating: 5.0

I’ve also reviewed
BOMBPROOF
SHATTER #3
SHATTER (audio)
BLEED FOR ME #4
5.0, THE WRECKAGE #5
4.8, SAY YOU’RE SORRY #6
5.0, WATCHING YOU #7
4.8, IF I TELL YOU… I’LL HAVE TO KILL YOU (edit)
5.0, LIFE OR DEATH Shortlisted for the 2015 CWA Gold Dagger
4.8, CLOSE YOUR EYES
5.0, THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS   
 

Review: THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY, Caroline Overington

  • this edition published by Harper Collins Publishers 2016
  • ISBN 978-0-7322-9975
  • 332 pages

Synopsis (back cover)

Loren Wynne-Estes appears to have it all: she’s the girl from the wrong side of the tracks who’s landed a handsome husband, a stunning home, a fleet of shiny cars and two beautiful daughters …

Then one day a fellow parent taps Loren on the shoulder outside the grand school gate, hands her a note … and suddenly everything’s at
stake.

Loren’s Facebook-perfect marriage is spectacularly exposed revealing an underbelly of lies and betrayal. What is uncovered will scandalise a small town, destroy lives and leave a family divided.

But who is to be believed and who is to blame? Will the right person be brought to justice or is there one who got away?

My Take

The blurb on the back of the book tries very hard not to reveal any plot details, and so I think I should follow that line. That makes reviewing it extremely hard.

The book is set in a suburb of Los Angeles with deep social divisions demarcated by the river that runs through the suburb. Loren and her family(husband and twin girls aged 5) live on High Side but she was born on Low Side. When she was young her mother left her father for another woman who already had a daughter Loren’s age, Molly. Loren eventually goes to work in New York where she meets a man from High Side. She returns to Los Angeles and and they eventually marry.

The story is told by a number of narrators: Molly, a journal that Loren wrote, a journalist interviewing Loren’s husband David, and the judge in a trial where David is being tried for murder,

It is a book that holds the reader’s interest throughout but I guarantee that most readers will not predict the ending.

My rating: 4.5

About the author
Caroline Overington is a two-time Walkley Award-winning journalist who is currently a senior writer and columnist with The Australian. She is the author of two non-fiction books, Only in New York and Kickback which is about the UN oil-for-food scandal in Iraq. Since then she has had her first novel Ghost Child published in October 2009 to great acclaim.

She has written eleven books, including LAST WOMAN HANGED, which won the Davitt Award for True Crime Writing in 2015.  Caroline has also profiled many of the world’s most famous women, including Oprah Winfrey and Hillary Clinton.

I’ve also read
4.4, SISTERS OF MERCY
4.5, NO PLACE LIKE HOME
4.7, I CAME TO SAY GOODBYE
4.5, CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?

Review: OUT OF THE ICE by Ann Turner

I imagine it’s thanks to her screen writing background that Ann Turner is a dab hand at depicting a strong sense of physical place in her novels. In this, her second standalone thriller, Turner takes us to Antarctica which she brings alive in a way that few novels set there manage to do. There is, of course, the usual focus on ice and wildlife but by setting a good portion of the book in an abandoned Norwegian whaling village Tuner provides a human scale to the place which, perhaps paradoxically, makes it all the more wondrous. Showing the village as a place where whole families once lived and played in between working hard in an industry most would now find abhorrent is well done and offers a genuinely fascinating view of this little-understood part of the world.

Alas, for me at least, the remaining elements of the book were not nearly as successful.

Turner’s heroine, scientist Laura Alvarado, is asked to make a report about the possibility of removing the aforementioned whaling village, Fredelighavn, from the Antarctic Exclusion Zone and opening it as a tourist destination. Although Laura is against the idea at the outset it is assumed by those who matter that she will be objective and so she is cajoled into agreement. Her problems begin when she arrives at the scientific research base nearest to the village and is treated like some kind of pariah by most of the people there. Who just happen to be men. Is it a sexism thing? Then in the village itself (a relatively short ride away from the research base) odd things start to happen. It seems like people have been there recently even though no one is meant to be there without permission. And Laura thinks she sees actual people. Is that a real woman or the ghost of the last whaling captain’s wife? And is there really a teenage boy trapped in an ice cave or is Laura going ‘toasty’ (the phrase used to describe the particular kind of madness that strikes people who have stayed too long in Antarctica)?

My problem was that I didn’t care. I was bored early with Laura who is meant to be around 30 and behaves, mostly, like a particularly petulant and juvenile 14 year old. She rushes to judgement, swoons like a schoolgirl on multiple occasions and behaves erratically or stupidly almost all of the time. I know that might be realistic as far as human beings go but it’s just not very interesting to read about. And the fact that she does a decade’s worth of maturing over the course of the last 25 or so pages of the book make it worse somehow. There are a lot of other characters but none really are developed beyond a single dimension so they didn’t offer much in the way of engagement for me.

As for the the storyline…I found it to be absurd and not in a good, Douglas Adams-y way. More like someone threw a magnetic poetry kit at the nearest fridge door and used the resulting randomness as the basis for a plot. I know we are readers are meant to suspend disbelief when reading fiction but I’d have need to put my critical faculties in a blender to swallow the credibility gaps here. I’m not even concerned with the main “strange things going on in a really hard to get to place” element of the plot which I could have lived with. But all the little things surrounding that just didn’t ring true. Mostly because they were based on Laura’s random conjectures and/or official organisations or their representatives behaving in ways that wouldn’t happen. And you don’t want to get me started on the sappy, daft ending.

I did enjoy the parts of OUT OF THE ICE that depicted the historical use of Antarctica. which included a nice little side-trip to Nantucket to meet with the last whaling captain’s granddaughter. But as a work of narrative thrills I was sadly disappointed.


aww2017-badgeThis is the 11th book I’ve read and reviewed for the 2017 Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.


Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781925030907
Length: 360 pages
Format: eBook (iBooks)
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: POLICE AT THE STATION AND THEY DON’T LOOK FRIENDLY by Adrian McKinty

It’s 1988. Sean Duffy, a rare Catholic policeman in the RUC, is being marched into the woods by three IRA gunmen and one IRA gunwoman. One of them carries a shovel. With which Sean will be asked to dig his own grave.

This is how the sixth book in this funny, sad, brilliant series opens and I nearly stopped right there. Few authors would dare to kill off their series hero and even fewer would do so at the beginning of a novel. But Adrian McKinty is just the sort of twisted bastard of an author to do it if it made for the best story and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. But…I had to know.

As is the way of such things readers are left on tenterhooks awaiting Sean’s fate while we flashback to a few days earlier and start to learn what has led Sean to his dire situation. In a semblance of unexpected normality Sean is holidaying with his girlfriend and baby daughter at his parents’ house when he is called back to Carrikfergus to investigate a death-by-crossbow in the economically destitute Sunnylands estate. Where “…the only distractions to be had were hassling single women at the bus stop and building bonfires” and Sean can “…almost smell the stench of cheap ciggies, unwashed armpits, solvents, lighter fluid and special brew“. He is presented with a shambles of a crime scene. The body has not been cordoned off. The crowd is so close to it that their cigarette ash is falling onto it. There’s even a goat slobbering over the deceased. Forever contaminating what evidence there might have been. And Sean Duffy’s trusted sergeant John ‘Crabby’ McCrabben has been stabbed by the victim’s wife.

And so begins another adventure in the somewhat surreal life of Sean Duffy, his few friends and an increasingly large pool of enemies. I’ll say nothing more about the plot. Except that it’s a ripper. Lots of twists and turns and enough near-death experiences to have me reaching for the angina medication.

Although you could, you probably wouldn’t read this series just for the plots.

There’s their almost documentary-like observations of life during The Troubles which is done with dark humour yet a light, non-expositional touch. It’s the little things really. Like every time Sean Duffy gets into his car he checks underneath for mercury tilt bombs. Regardless of whether it’s been parked in the street outside his house overnight or he’s nicked into a shop for a minute Sean always checks. Sometimes he does it surreptitiously – pretending he dropped his lighter for example – but he always checks and readers are always told about it. Which means that instead of checking for bombs being a kind of abstract concept – as it would be if we had to infer its repetition from a single mention – we get a glimmer of what it must be like to live that kind of life.

And there are the characters. Duffy is 38 now and feeling every year of it with his newly diagnosed asthma and the effects of years of smoking, drinking and taking the odd recreational drug. He is still able to laugh at some of the chaos but his intermittent depression at the senselessness surrounding them all is still, understandably, there. Though of course he feels and behaves differently with the inclusion of Beth and Emma in his life. Beth is a welcome addition and her depiction seems very realistic as she struggles to stick by the man she loves while he – and their little family – is subject to very, very real danger. Duffy’s two staunchest allies, the aforementioned Crabby and DC Lawson, prove once again what real friends they truly are. It’s really quite a lovely depiction of male friendship; and not the kind involving stupid levels of drunkenness and womanising that is depicted in much of popular culture.

I could go on quite a bit more but if you are not yet convinced it’s probably a lost cause. I will just say that if you like the sound of a book in which the chaos of real life plays more of a role than neat endings and conventional justice then this one is for you. That it has gallows humour, wholly understandable musical snobbery, more than a single traitor and a very fast car is all to the good. If you want the ultimate experience then invite Gerard Doyle into your ears to tell you the story.


Publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2015
Narrator: Gerard Doyle
ASIN: B06X9Z9LDT
Length: 9 hours 49 minutes
Format: audio book (mp3)
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS by Michael Robotham

Michael Robotham’s standalone novels have a tendency to cajole me into empathising with people who I wouldn’t expect to find sympathetic. In 2014’s LIFE OR DEATH I found myself on the side of a convicted robber and with THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS I ended up feeling compassion for two women who present, at least initially, as downright unlikable.

Agatha is single(ish), works as a supermarket shelf stacker and will lose her job – and what paltry benefits it comes with – when her baby is born later in the year. Meghan has a successful and loving husband, a pigeon pair of children soon to be supplemented by an ‘oops baby’ and her mummy blog has recently been plucked from obscurity by a women’s magazine. It’s not a complete surprise then that Agatha fantasizes about having Meghan’s life. But we’re not in SINGLE WHITE FEMALE territory here; there’s something far more subtle than sheer covetousness for the sake of it going on.

Although it is suspenseful, especially in its second half, THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS is more of an exploration of its two central characters than the term ‘thriller’ might suggest. We realise almost immediately that all is not as it seems with Agatha, but as her secrets (and she has many) are revealed Agatha morphs from the scary, one-dimensional character of many ‘airport reads’ into a woman who has had more than her fair share of life’s travails and understandably yearns for the kind of life she sees other people leading. While I baulked at some of Agatha’s methods I grew to admire the strength of her determination and could identify with the depth of her need. It became really easy to like Agatha and to somehow want her to succeed, even though for her to do so would harm Meghan and her family irrevocably. And I didn’t want that either as I grew to know Meghan. Whose life is not as perfect as it appears to outsiders and who has at least one element of her life she’ll fight to keep secret. I suppose it’s not exactly a revelation that people are rarely what they present to the world but depicting that kind of dichotomy is often done in a pretty ham-fisted way whereas here it has a real ring of authenticity and is, more than once, quite beautifully sad.

The novel also offers some cuttingly sharp observations about modern living but it’s hard to say much about these without giving away spoilers. Given that even the publisher’s blurb for this book is remarkably (and wonderfully) scant on the plot’s surprises I’d hate to give the game away so will just say that I enjoyed the book’s take on the modern media landscape and our collective culpability when rushing to judgement about things or people we know bugger all about.

In short, THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS is a terrific, character-driven novel of considered suspense. Its subject matter will be tough going for those who have shared Agatha’s particular problems but because her experiences are only ever shown to help us understand her choices, the depiction shouldn’t elicit the kind of manufactured outrage so popular in today’s world.

My experience of this book was only enhanced in the audio format very ably narrated by experienced voice artist Lucy Price-Lewis. She managed to convey the different narrative voices with subtle but observable differences and didn’t over dramatise (a pet peeve of mine).


My fellow Fair Dinkum host has already had her say about the print version of THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS.


Publisher: Hachette Audio, 2017
Narrator: Lucy Price-Lewis
ASIN: B06Y26WYRJ
Length: 11 hours, 58 minutes
Format: Audio book
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS, Michael Robotham

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1127 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere (July 11, 2017)
  • Publication Date: July 11, 2017
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01N7SVPRI

Synopsis (Amazon)

Everyone has an idea of what their perfect life is. For Agatha, it’s Meghan Shaughnessy’s.

These two women from vastly different backgrounds have one thing in common – a dangerous secret that could destroy everything they hold dear.

Both will risk everything to hide the truth, but their worlds are about to collide in a shocking act that cannot be undone.

My Take:

Here is another cracker from Australian author Michael Robotham.

Two women, Meg and Agatha, living in suburban London, are joined by a bond of pregnancy. They will even give birth within days. But Agatha knows much more about Meg than vice versa. And they come from very different backgrounds and life experiences. They are the narrators of the story and so we often get two versions of the same events.

Initially I felt very critical of the apparent thin-ness of the “official” blurb, but then in writing this “review” I became very aware of how difficult it is to talk about the story without revealing too much. (I hope you don’t feel that I’ve told you too much as it is).

So, let me just recommend the book to you. It is a stand-alone, told through excellent character development, and with mounting suspense and plot twists as the book progresses. Underpinning everything is a commentary on modern living.

Michael Robotham remains at the top of my list of modern Aussie crime fiction authors.

My rating: 5.0

I’ve also read
BOMBPROOF
SHATTER #3
SHATTER (audio)
BLEED FOR ME #4
5.0, THE WRECKAGE #5
4.8, SAY YOU’RE SORRY #6
5.0, WATCHING YOU #7
4.8, IF I TELL YOU… I’LL HAVE TO KILL YOU (edit)
5.0, LIFE OR DEATH Shortlisted for the 2015 CWA Gold Dagger
4.8, CLOSE YOUR EYES

About the Author

Michael Robotham is a former investigative journalist whose psychological thrillers have been translated into twenty-three languages. In 2015 he won the prestigious UK Gold Dagger for his novel Life or Death, which was also shortlisted for the 2016 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel. Michael has twice won a Ned Kelly Award for Australia’s best
crime novel for Lost in 2015 and Shatter in 2008. He has also twice been shortlisted for the CWA UK Steel Dagger in 2007 for The Night Ferry and 2008 with Shatter. He lives in Sydney with his wife and three daughters.

Review: THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS, Michael Robotham

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 1127 KB
  • Print Length: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere (July 11, 2017)
  • Publication Date: July 11, 2017
  • Sold by: Hachette Book Group
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B01N7SVPRI

Synopsis (Amazon)

Everyone has an idea of what their perfect life is. For Agatha, it’s Meghan Shaughnessy’s.

These two women from vastly different backgrounds have one thing in common – a dangerous secret that could destroy everything they hold dear.

Both will risk everything to hide the truth, but their worlds are about to collide in a shocking act that cannot be undone.

My Take:

Here is another cracker from Australian author Michael Robotham.

Two women, Meg and Agatha, living in suburban London, are joined by a bond of pregnancy. They will even give birth within days. But Agatha knows much more about Meg than vice versa. And they come from very different backgrounds and life experiences. They are the narrators of the story and so we often get two versions of the same events.

Initially I felt very critical of the apparent thin-ness of the “official” blurb, but then in writing this “review” I became very aware of how difficult it is to talk about the story without revealing too much. (I hope you don’t feel that I’ve told you too much as it is).

So, let me just recommend the book to you. It is a stand-alone, told through excellent character development, and with mounting suspense and plot twists as the book progresses. Underpinning everything is a commentary on modern living.

Michael Robotham remains at the top of my list of modern Aussie crime fiction authors.

My rating: 5.0

I’ve also read
BOMBPROOF
SHATTER #3
SHATTER (audio)
BLEED FOR ME #4
5.0, THE WRECKAGE #5
4.8, SAY YOU’RE SORRY #6
5.0, WATCHING YOU #7
4.8, IF I TELL YOU… I’LL HAVE TO KILL YOU (edit)
5.0, LIFE OR DEATH Shortlisted for the 2015 CWA Gold Dagger
4.8, CLOSE YOUR EYES

About the Author

Michael Robotham is a former investigative journalist whose psychological thrillers have been translated into twenty-three languages. In 2015 he won the prestigious UK Gold Dagger for his novel Life or Death, which was also shortlisted for the 2016 Edgar Allan Poe Award for best novel. Michael has twice won a Ned Kelly Award for Australia’s best
crime novel for Lost in 2015 and Shatter in 2008. He has also twice been shortlisted for the CWA UK Steel Dagger in 2007 for The Night Ferry and 2008 with Shatter. He lives in Sydney with his wife and three daughters.

Review: SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE, Sarah Schmidt

  • this edition published by Hachette Australia in 2017
  • ISBN 978-0-7336-3688-2
  • source: my local library
  • 325 pages

Synopsis (Hachette Australia)

‘He was still bleeding. I yelled, “Someone’s killed Father.”

I breathed in kerosene air, licked the thickness from my teeth. The clock on the mantel ticked ticked. I looked at Father, the way hands clutched to thighs, the way the little gold ring on his pinky finger sat like a sun. I gave him that ring for his birthday when I no longer wanted it.
“Daddy,” I had said. “I’m giving this to you because I love you.” He had smiled and kissed my forehead.

A long time ago now.’

On 4 August 1892 Andrew and Abby Borden were murdered in their home in
Fall River, Massachusetts. During the inquest into the deaths, Lizzie Borden was arrested and charged with the murder of her father and her stepmother.

Through the eyes of Lizzie’s sister Emma, the housemaid Bridget, the enigmatic stranger Benjamin and the beguiling Lizzie herself, we return to what happened that day in Fall River.

Lizzie Borden took an axe. Or did she?

My Take

This is a work of fiction based on true events, and I was never quite sure how fictionalised everything was.The evidence about the events that led to the murder Andrew and Abby Borden is presented by several narrators, looking for reasons for the murders.

We are told in the cover blurb that Lizzie Borden was tried and found innocent, and that no one was ever convicted of the crime. The novel presents a number of possible scenarios but I think you are left in no doubt at the end of the author’s conclusion.

Nevertheless it is a book that keeps you reading, and it presents an analysis of the main characters.

My rating: 4.4

About the author
After completing a Bachelor of Arts (Professional writing and editing), a Master of Arts (Creative Writing), and a Graduate Diploma of Information Management, Sarah currently works as a Reading & Literacy Coordinator (read: a fancy librarian) at a regional public
library. She lives in Melbourne with her partner and daughter. See What I Have Done is her first novel.

Review: TELL THE TRUTH, SHAME THE DEVIL, Melina Marchetta

  • first published in 2016 by the Hatchette Book Group
  • ISBN 978-0-316-3429-1
  • 407 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Booktopia)

Melina Marchetta’s gripping new novel Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is part family saga, part crime fiction, and wholly unputdownable.

Chief Inspector Bish Ortly of the London MET, divorced and still grieving the death of his son, has been drowning his anger in a whisky bottle. Something has to give. He’s no sooner suspended from the force than a busload of British students on tour in France is hit in a bomb attack. Bish goes immediately to the scene, not in an official capacity, but because his daughter Bee was on that bus. Four people have been killed and another four critically injured.

Bee has mercifully survived, and so too has seventeen-year old Violette LeBrac. Raised in Australia, Violette has a troubled background. Thirteen years previously her grandfather bombed a London supermarket, killing twenty-three people in the process. Her mother, Noor, who ultimately confessed to helping make the bomb, is serving a life sentence. But before Violette’s involvement in the French tragedy can be established she disappears, along with a younger male student.

Bish Ortly has another interest in this case besides his daughter: he was involved in Noor LeBrac’s arrest.

My Take

A very readable book with plenty of puzzles to solve, and a number of personal interest stories.

The main puzzle is who has put the bomb on the bus and why? One of the victims Violette LeBrac is no stranger to terrorism and the media is quick to make the association and to infer that she has somehow been responsible for this bomb. When Violette goes on the run with another student, Bish Ortly is asked by British security to befriend the other families whose children were on the bus, to find out where Violette might have gone.

The first reviews I saw about this book talked about how good it was to see Melina Marchetta venturing into the world of adult crime fiction. Having now finished the book I’m not sure that that was her intention (even though I have been told that she herself has said so). I thought the author would still see herself writing mainly for an older YA audience, helping them come to terms with some of the serious issues of the adult world, in particular terrorism, racism, and sexuality. I didn’t think that so much for the bulk of the book, but certainly felt it in the last few pages.

My rating: 4.5
About the author

Melina Marchetta’s first novel, Looking for Alibrandi, swept the pool of literary awards for young adult fiction in 1993, winning the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year Award (Older Readers) among many others. In 2000 it was released as a major Australian film, winning an AFI award and an Independent Film Award for best screenplay as well as the NSW Premier’s Literary Award and the Film Critics Circle
of Australia Award.

Melina taught secondary school English and History for ten years, during which time she released her second novel, Saving Francesca, in 2003, followed by On the Jellicoe Road in 2006, and Finnikin of the Rock in 2008. Saving Francesca won the CBC Book of the Year Award for Older Readers. On the Jellicoe Road was also published in the US as Jellicoe Road, and it won the prestigious American Library Association’s Michael L
Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature in 2009. In 2008, Melina’s first work of fantasy, Finnikin of the Rock, won the Aurealis Award for Best Young Adult Novel and was shortlisted for the 2009 CBCA Award for Older Readers.

Melina’s most recent novel, The Piper’s Son, was published in 2010 and has been long-listed for the Miles Franklin Award and shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards. Melina’s novels have been published in more than sixteen countries and twelve languages.