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Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil
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When Bish Ortley, a recently suspended cop, receives word that a bus carrying his daughter has been bombed, he rushes to be by her side. A suspect has already been named: a 17-year-old girl who has since disappeared from the scene. The press has now revealed that she is the youngest member of one of London’s most notorious families.
Years earlier, they were implicated in an attack that left dozens dead. Has the girl decided to follow in their footsteps? To find her, Bish must earn the trust of her friends and family, including her infamous mother, now serving a life sentence in prison.
But even as he delves into the deadly bus attack that claimed five lives, the ghosts of older crimes become impossible to ignore. A gripping fusion of literary suspense and family drama, Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is a fast-paced puzzle of a novel that will keep reader feverishly turning pages.
“More than a crime story; it’s jam-packed with family drama and heartbreak. Highly recommended for suspense and mystery fans.” — Library Journal
They call him Scouser Jimmy at the construction site. Everyone has a nickname, so Jimmy takes it in his stride. “You remind me of another Jimmy,” the boss says one day when they’re standing on a plank, high above Brackenham Street. “Both of you have the heart of a lion.” Jimmy read in the Daily Mail months ago that Man United had signed up a Brackenham council estate kid, same age as him. Word on the street is that the other Jimmy has given it his best, all his life. Scouser Jimmy’s becoming a fan, although he’ll be hammered back in Liverpool for admitting it.
He misses home. More than anything he misses his ma and da, sitting with them after dinner in front of the telly, talking about everything and a whole lot of rubbish, really. But the thing is that Jimmy wants to see the world, so he’s in London now, holding down three jobs. Working on construction during the week, pub work at night, and shucking out the stables at Richmond Park on the weekends. If he puts his head down, he’ll have enough to take off within a year because it’s always been his dream. Ever since his parents bought him that atlas with his confirmation money. Jimmy’s ma said that when Da was his age and old enough to sign the papers, he applied for a passport, but never got to use it.
“Why don’t you meet me someplace?” Jimmy asks when he rings one night, just to hear their voices. “Maybe Australia.” Because it was Da who once showed him the images of the red earth there.
Da doesn’t say much. Just mumbles a “maybe.”
So he makes a detour and walks down Brackenham Street to St. Christopher’s, on the corner. He’ll light a candle and make a vow. He’s going to find a way to get Da’s passport stamped. Even if it’s the last thing he ever does.
Bish dreamt of his son again. It was what woke him. Not that he needed to pinpoint the reason these days. Three a.m. had become his witching hour, and the fears that revealed themselves made him shudder at the thought of all his future 3 a.m.s—of what they might produce. Shaking him awake and reminding him of loss and longing and mortality.
He woke again hours later, dragging himself out of bed to the sameness that he’d become used to this past week. A blinding headache. A flat that looked like a university dorm: laundry piled high and a week’s worth of glasses fighting for space on his bedside table. A dead goldfish. That was becoming a ritual now. Another day, another dead fish.
At the front door he collected his post and sat at the breakfast bar sorting it into bills, junk, and letters, marveling at how considerate his postman was, bundling together a deficit to his bank account of five hundred quid in one neat package. Phone bill. Gas bill. Electricity bill. Then he came across handwriting. A postcard from Bee: You said to send you a line from Normandy. That was it. No Dear Dad or Miss you heaps. As someone used to spending his days dealing with the scum of the earth, Bish Ortley found no species crueler than the adolescent female. He stared at the cursive, wondering how long he had been waiting for something handwritten, evidence that someone out there had taken the time to reveal the wonders of the world to him.
When his phone interrupted his hangover-induced musings, Bish saw the name of his old boarding school mate. They met up sporadically over the years, usually on Elliot’s initiative. Last Bish knew, he was working for British Rail.
“Tried you at work but you weren’t there, Ortley.”
Bish wasn’t in the mood for explaining that.
“Listen…things are sketchy, but I thought you needed to know,” Elliot said. “One of the communications people here has picked up talk of a bombing. At a campsite between Calais and Boulogne-sur-Mer. They’re suggesting it could be a busload of British kids on a tour of Normandy. Bumped into your mother last weekend and she mentioned Bee—”
Bish hung up. Heart thumping, pressing Bee’s number with a shaking finger, waiting. Heard the ring first, then her voice.
Obviously not here. Or obviously avoiding you. Pick the reason. Leave a message.
His ex-wife once warned him that the key to dealing with Bee was not to beg. She was extra cruel when Bish or Rachel pleaded. But he’d trade a lifetime of that cruelty to hear her voice right now.
“Sweetheart, ring as soon as you get this. Even if you’re angry with me, just ring. I need to know you’re okay.”
He rang Elliot back.
“What does your comms person know?”
“Not much. Just that it happened about twenty minutes ago. Someone at the campsite tweeted that the bus had French number plates, but they’re saying it was carrying British kids. Doesn’t necessarily mean it’s hers.”
Bish’s mouth was dry and he didn’t know where he found the word, but it was there. It had formed on his tongue the moment Elliot had said “Bee” and “bombing” together.
“Nothing clear yet. But some online images are coming through now. It doesn’t look good. Ambulances, helicopters. Definitely kids being taken away. The French will lock out the press and may jam mobile phone signals if there’s a threat of another device going off. If it were my kid, I’d go now. Can’t imagine the French letting anyone else but parents in.”
Bish didn’t need to be told twice. He’d have to let Rachel know, and he wasn’t sure how. His ex-wife was eight months pregnant, and if Calais came across on some news feed she was following, it wouldn’t be good. But a phone call from Bish while their daughter was away would alarm her. He knew he had to do the right thing, regardless of the fact that the man who’d replaced him was the last person Bish wanted to speak to. He rang before he could change his mind.
There was a moment’s hesitation.
Good. No pleasantries.
“Listen, you need to prepare Rachel. There’s been a bombing outside Calais. A tour bus of British kids.”
“Oh fuck. Fuck. Fuck!”
Maybe not such a good idea to tell the second husband.
“I haven’t heard from Bee yet,” Bish said. “Tell Rachel to keep off her phone. Bee may try to ring her. Tell her I’m driving there now and I’ll ring the moment I’m at the campground.”
“Bee doesn’t cope with the tunnel,” Maynard said. “So drive her back on the ferry.”
Bish hung up. His daughter. His claustrophobia she’d inherited, thank you very much. He couldn’t think of anything worse than going through the Channel tunnel, but he didn’t need to hear that from the man who stole his family.
Twenty minutes later he was on the A2 heading to Dover. He’d exhausted every radio station, all regurgitating the same facts or predicting the worst. August in France meant the campsites were packed with kids on tours and families on holidays. He turned down the volume when the talk switched to how many British kids traveled to Europe each year. Next they’d be calculating possible death tolls.
Bish’s phone rang and he fumbled to see whose name appeared on the screen. His heart sank.
“Bish darling, do you know anything?”
His mother had never been much of an alarmist, but he could hear the fear in her voice now.
“I’m on my way there,” he said.
“If you haven’t passed the turnoff, let me come with you.”
Saffron Ortley lived forty minutes out of London and en route to Dover. Bish was tempted to lie, to say he was long past the turnoff, but his head felt like jelly, and lying took effort.
“Please, Bish. I don’t want you going there alone.”
Three hours later they were sitting on the ferry, sailing towards a nightmare of uncertainty. Saffron, though, had the look of cool practicality that came from years of being a diplomat’s wife. She was the person people noticed when she entered a room, and now, in the ferry lounge, two elderly sisters on their way to visit a niece in Bruges asked her if she’d be a dear and get them a pot of tea. She had already rearranged the seating between them and a couple of backpackers who thought their packs needed a seat of their own. All without a fuss.
“Who could stomach a beer on a Channel crossing?” one of the sisters said, watching the activity at the bar, where Saffron was buying the teas and shortbread.
Bish could. He could stomach a drink anytime.
Rachel rang just as they were about to drive off the ferry.
“I spoke to Bee a minute ago,” she said.
The relief made him dizzy and he rested his head against the steering wheel, waiting for the spinning to stop. He felt his mother’s hand on his.
“Bee’s okay,” he told Saffron.
“She’s pretty shaken, but not hurt.” Rachel’s voice sounded small. “Who’s with you?”
“Mum,” he said. “So was it Bee’s bus?”
He couldn’t hear her reply. Only her crying, so he figured the answer was yes.
There had been a moment of absolute clarity on the M20, between Maidstone and Ashford: if his daughter was dead, Bish would end it all. He’d already identified the body of one of his children. He couldn’t do that twice in his lifetime.
“I’ll ring you the moment I see her,” he said. “I’m putting Saffron on.”
His mother took the phone and pointed to the other side of the road.
“Darling, we’re in France now. Hug the right.”
The campsite was thirty minutes’ drive from the port, just outside Boulogne-sur-Mer. It was set within a couple of hundred acres of wooded land. On a non-heinous day, when a bus carrying teenagers hadn’t been blown up and helicopters weren’t hovering overhead, it would have been a perfect place for quietude. But with no CCTV and no eyewitness on every corner, Bish knew the investigation would be a painstaking one. Halfway down a gravel road that would barely allow the girth of a bus, it already looked like a single-file car park, packed with press vans, cop cars, paramedics, and desperate local parents. Bish pulled over, knowing it was futile to drive any further.
Walking the track, they could see a large crowd of journalists ahead. Arguments with police were already breaking out, cameras were held overhead in an attempt to catch a glimpse of anything. At the barricades two young uniforms weren’t letting anyone through. Bish grabbed his mother’s hand and pushed through all the same, finding his way to the front. There must have been a different sort of desperation on both their faces, because one of the French uniforms gave them the time of day. Bish’s mother spoke to them in French and managed to get a slight gesture from the younger of the pair.
“Show him a photo of Bee, darling.”
Bish struggled to pull it out of his wallet with shaking hands. Perhaps the truth was etched on his every grimace and wince of pain, because a wordless flick of a thumb indicated that they were in.
Debris lined the road, mostly bits and pieces of the iron gate that led to the camp car park, with what was left of it hanging from one hinge. Beyond was carnage, partly concealed by a canvas being erected around a bus. Bish could see it was split in two, its front section black and smoldering. The back half looked untouched. Some suitcases had found their way into a clustered pile, others were blown apart. A team of forensic techs worked quietly, the eerie silence mocked by birds that chirped a sinister happy tune in the surrounding woodlands. Another ambulance passed them, guided by a uniformed cop who had constructed an access path that would not interfere with evidence. Bish knew there were fatalities. He could see at least two smaller tents pitched close to the half-destroyed bus, and another about a hundred meters away at the steps of a second bus. Three deaths. Bish counted seven other coaches in the car park and recognized a few foreign number plates at a glance. Polish. Italian. Bee’s bus had seemingly been blown up as it approached the exit gate.
A woman in plain clothes approached, questioning them in French.
“Nous sommes anglais,” his mother said, and Bish saw a flash of pity on the woman’s face.
“La salle des jeux,” she said, pointing to the closest building.
Inside the recreation room, paramedics and camp staff were tending to the kids. No one seemed badly injured here, and Bish figured those seriously hurt had already been taken to the closest hospital. Although he hadn’t received an official call about his daughter’s bus being involved, he knew that most of the kids on the tour were from Kent and Sussex, close enough for a worried parent to contemplate crossing the Channel just to be sure. He knew too, from dropping off Bee at the port in Dover, that out of forty-six places, the tour organizers had managed to fill only twenty-three. He did a quick count, wanting to see twenty-three kids and their chaperones. But then he saw Bee and it was all that mattered.
She was sitting on a bedroll against a wall. The moment she saw him she forgot herself and scrambled to her feet, running to Bish and his mother, her arms trembling in their grip. He held back the choke of emotion, welcoming the contact, not wanting to let go because Bee always let go too soon these days. Once upon a time, Bish and Rachel called her their little orangutan because of her clinginess, but three years ago his daughter had stopped believing that her parents could save her from anything.
It was in her grandmother’s arms that Bee began to cry, but not for too long. “I need some air,” she said.
Bish took her to a window, shoved it open, and instantly realized his mistake when he glimpsed the destroyed bus. He tried to guide her away but she stared at the scene outside, transfixed.
“What about the chaperones, Bee?” he asked, searching the hall. A couple of pinball machines and a pool table had been pushed up against one of the walls to make room for the kids, each of them with a bedroll provided by the campsite.
“Mr. McEwan? Is that his name?”
She didn’t respond, except with tears in her dark eyes.
“We’ll get you home,” he said, gathering her to him. “We’ll find Mr. McEwan and work out what’s going on. Do you know where he could be?”
Bee pointed a shaky hand outside, directed towards the tent closest to the smoldering front half of the bus. “Everyone’s saying it’s Mac, because no one’s seen him since…and one of the year eights said they saw brown Jesus sandals under the sheet.” Bee swallowed hard. “It’s what he wore all the time.”
She indicated another tent, cordoned off at the steps of a bus, around which a cluster of police stood. “That’s where the Spanish kids were boarding their bus. There’s a body there as well.”
Bee looked confused, her face crumbling for the second cry, but she controlled it. “My bus was blown into two pieces and I got away without a scratch,” she said, “and someone standing way over there dies just like that.”
Was it a nail bomb? Bish wondered.
“They reckon if our bus had been full, there’d be a string of body bags. Thank God everyone used to fight over the back seats.”
“How many sitting at the front, Honey Bee?” Saffron asked.
“I don’t know. Mr. McEwan, plus about half a dozen. Fionn Sykes was there too. He usually sat at the back, but he was fixing up the luggage.”
She looked stricken for a moment. “There were two others—they were outside, opening the gate. Violette and Eddie.”
Bee looked up at him and Bish saw regret and fear on her face.
“I couldn’t see a thing,” she said. “I didn’t do a thing. I just wanted to get out of there, and then…then I thought I saw Stevie. And I just knew that if I got to him, I’d be safe…But it ended up being Eddie. Eddie Conlon. That’s who I saw outside the bus, except I haven’t seen him since, and I don’t know where she is—Violette.”
Bish pressed a kiss to her brow. “Bee, who’s in charge?” he asked. “Who’s been taking care of you all since it happened?”
“No one, really. Gorman’s running around like a bloody idiot. Reckon he’s speaking to the embassy.”
“And the other one?” Bish asked, remembering a young woman he had met briefly at the port in Dover. “Lucy?”
There had been three “shaps,” as the kids liked to call them, on the tour. Two were teachers—Russell Gorman and Julius McEwan—earning extra money over the summer break. The other was a university student wanting to sharpen up her French language skills. Bee had put her name down weeks ago for the eight-day trip through Normandy, paying the deposit herself. Neither Rachel nor Bish knew about it until the deadline for the final balance. Bish had a feeling she just wanted to get away from her friends. They were all fake, she’d complained lately. He’d noticed a change in his daughter since her return from a junior athletics meet in Gothenburg earlier that year. Perhaps it was the introduction to a foreign culture, and the diversity. Bee was never short of an entourage at home, but she wasn’t quite meshing with any of them one-on-one.
Saffron finally angled Bee away from the grisly view and back to the bedroll. Close by, a boy of about fifteen sat slumped with his head on his knees. Bish crouched beside him, placing a hand on his shoulder. The boy looked up.
“I didn’t get to ring my mum,” he said, fighting the tears. He was holding a sheet of paper torn out of a wire-bound notebook. It had a list of names and dates of birth written in a neat hand. Some had phone numbers written alongside. Since Bee was identified as Sabina Ballyntine-Ortley, Bish figured the details had been copied from the passports. On the back of the sheet was a sketch of seating placements. Bish took it from the boy, relieved at someone’s initiative to be practical under such circumstances.
“What’s your name?” he asked the boy.
“Who wrote this, Matty?”
The boy shrugged.
“Who has your passport?” he prompted.
“Lucy. The shap. She was in charge of holding the passports since Dover.”
Lucy the chaperone wasn’t as switched off as Bee thought if she’d taken the time to record these details.
“Most of our phones are out there,” Matty said, pointing in the direction of the bomb site. “Someone had theirs on them and they passed it around so we could ring home, but it ran out of credit halfway down the list. Gorman won’t let us use his phone because he’s waiting for a call from the embassy.”
Bish retrieved his phone. “What’s your mum’s number?”
When the boy had finished speaking to his mother, Bish’s phone did the rounds. From the handwritten list, he worked out that if a kid had contacted home he was to tick his or her name. Those who had been taken to hospital were marked with an H. There were seven names marked “Unaccountable.”
He saw a tick next to Eddie Conlon’s name. Bee had seemed concerned about him and would be relieved to hear he’d contacted a parent. Bish noticed the date of birth beside his name: Eddie had turned thirteen in February. When Bee had mentioned Eddie, Bish got a sense they were the same age, not four years apart.
“Chief Inspector Ortley.”
Russell Gorman, the teacher from Strood, was coming towards him. There was a fevered look in his eyes.
“The locals think they’ve got total control.”
“Well, Calais and Boulogne do belong to them,” Bish reminded him. “Who have you been dealing with here?”
“A local. Capitaine Attal. I’ve been letting him think he’s in charge until someone arrived,” Gorman said.
Bish was about to correct him. He wasn’t here to investigate. The Metropolitan Police didn’t send their officers to France to investigate a bombing. But a cry at the entrance made him turn, and he saw a couple embracing a pair of identical twins who looked about Bee’s age.
“I know who did it,” Gorman said. “Bad blood,” he added.
“What are you saying?” Bish asked.
“We’ll talk in a moment,” the chaperone whispered, before hurrying to introduce himself to the newly arrived parents.
Bish went back to the handwritten sheet. He didn’t want to look further down the page. Didn’t want to see a phone number penciled beside an unaccountable because then he’d feel obliged to ring a parent. But he did look, committing the names to memory. And there on the list he saw one he couldn’t easily forget. It seemed unfathomable. It stunned him, but he dared not let himself think it was anything more than sheer coincidence.
Violette LeBrac Zidane.
The moment Bish stepped outside, it was easy to see who was in charge: Capitaine Olivier Attal. The French police captain looked like a prizefighter. Ugly as one. A nose broken too many times to count, from the looks of things. A bear of a man in both shape and facial hair. Attal had insisted that all the anglais stay until he’d interviewed everyone who’d been on board the bus, even if it took all night.
More parents had arrived from across the Channel, at first hysterical, then relieved, and then guilty at their relief. The rumor was that Julius McEwan was dead. He was a history teacher at a school in Dover and the chaperone the kids most relied on. They seemed indifferent to their youngest shap, Lucy Gilies, a twentysomething reading history at Cambridge. Bee claimed Lucy was prone to hysterics and had to be sedated after the bomb went off, which made Bish question whether she’d written the list of names after all. That had left the kids at the mercy of their least favorite shap, Gorman, who’d earned the nickname Vermin. Since the blast, he’d spent most of his time on the phone with the embassy, and this was known because all he seemed to say was, “I’m on the phone with the embassy.”
Bish watched Attal exchange a word with one of his officers, who was labeling items around the bomb site. Suddenly the two were staring in Bish’s direction.
Even across this distance he knew he was under scrutiny, so he faced the inevitable and made his way towards them.
“L’inspecteur en chef?” Attal asked with more than a hint of hostility.
Before Bish could introduce himself, Attal cut him off.
“Not need d’inspecteur en chef anglais.”
Bish shook his head. Pointed back to the hall. “My fille. Sabina.”
“Passport?” the man demanded.
Bish bristled but retrieved his passport from his pocket and handed it to Attal, who studied it.
Bish wasn’t interested in explaining his family history right now.
The capitaine pointed back to the bomb site. “Vous connaissez les noms?”
Bish shook his head, confused. He had a very basic understanding of French. Didn’t know what the man was asking, and contemplated a search for Saffron, who could translate.
Dead. Did Bish know who the dead were? He was about to shake his head but remembered the list in his pocket. He handed it to Attal, pointing to the names beside “Unaccountable” and then showing him the roughly sketched seating plan.
The capitaine studied the page and pointed to two names, their ages, their genders. Bish had to congratulate the scribe, whoever it was, for going into such detail. Attal was making a match. Two males. One aged in his thirties, the other fifteen. A student named Michael Stanley and a teacher named Julius McEwan. Bish’s heart sank. With their names came the thought of family, friends, schoolmates, colleagues, teammates, neighbors…
Bish saw Attal stiffen as he scanned further down the list.
That word Bish did understand, and he knew exactly what Attal was referring to. Couldn’t agree more. Bee’s tour of Normandy had included the granddaughter of Louis Sarraf, the man responsible for killing twenty-three people, and himself, in the Brackenham bombing over thirteen years ago. Violette LeBrac Zidane’s mother, Noor LeBrac, confessed to making the bomb and was now serving a life sentence.
Praise for Tell The Truth, Shame the Devil:
"Each new Melina Marchetta novel is a revelation. She's always changing, always evolving, and each one performs the miracle of somehow bettering the last--and TELL THE TRUTH, SHAME THE DEVIL does exactly that. A novel of great scope, of past and present, and above all, the Marchetta trademark of a fierce and loving heart."—Markus Zusak, bestselling author of The Book Thief
- "When you spend roughly 400 pages with characters and it still doesn't feel like enough you know you've read a great book. Actually, an excellent book. [It] expertly slices out every human emotion. I can only hope I will get to meet these characters again in a future book."—Jamie Canaves, BookRiot
"Marchetta's stunning adult debut....Emotionally complex characters complement an intricate plot rife with dizzying twists and devastating reveals. This visceral read manages to capture the emotional aftermath of a mass tragedy while sustaining tension and delivering a scathing indictment of racial profiling, vigilante justice, and the 24-hour news cycle."
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Along with its wellrounded and likable characters, this is more than a crime story; it's jam-packed with family drama and heartbreak. Highly recommended for suspense and mystery fans."
—Kristen Calvert, Library Journal (starred review)
"Marchetta's smooth writing and flair for dialogue combine for a mostly seamless read."
"I might have held my breath the entire time I was reading Melina Marchetta's heart-pounding (and heartbreaking) new novel. Part crime story, part family drama, part love story, TELL THE TRUTH, SHAME THE DEVIL grabbed me by the throat and didn't let go until I'd read the last word--and shed the last tear."
—Gayle Forman, bestselling author of If I Stay and Leave Me
- "Loved it! TELL THE TRUTH, SHAME THE DEVIL is a stunning marriage of global anguish and personal pain. It's often heartbreaking, sometimes heart-stopping, and definitely unforgettable."—Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street
"A cracking read that's also timely and intelligent....Marchetta is a master storyteller. Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil deserves to be on the bedside table of every crime fan."
—The Saturday Paper (Australia)
"....the characters [Marchetta] introduces are rich and complex. They'll soon be swept up in this swift thriller and call for more installments in Bish's tale."
—Cat Acree, BookPage
- "Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil brilliantly captures the confusion of father-daughter relationships, the double-edged sword of redemption, and the destructive societal fear of "The Other." Alternating between dozens of perspectives, Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil is a wide-lens view of how one act of violence can reverberate for years and years in countless different lives and countless different places."—Cristina Arreola, Bustle
- "There's much complexity and beauty in Melina Marchetta's resonating Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil. While large in scope, exploring timely issues such as terrorism, racism, the plight of immigrants and social media's lynch-mob mentality, the book also tells the heartrending personal stories of multidimensional and memorable characters."—Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, Shelf Awareness (starred review)
- "These stories, and the characters she introduces, are as much about the changing social and cultural climate of western Europe --- and the distrust and fear that too often accompany those changes --- as they are about any specific incident of violence. The book urges all of us to take a step back and consider --- as well as confront --- our own inherent biases."—Norah Piehl, BookReporter
"Marchetta seems to have inside knowledge of the mysterious processes of the teenage brain. A busload of quarrelsome, immature adolescents doesn't daunt her in the least.... Her young characters all stand out as individuals. Even at their most infuriating, they're always believable."
—Marilyn Stasio, New York Times Book Review
"A multi-layered book with a big heart that accords every character we encounter - and there are many - a backstory that serves to illustrate just how profoundly people's lives may be shaped by the forces of history over which they have no control. Marchetta does this seamlessly, while her characters spring to life on the page....a beautifully conceived crime novel that continues to resonate long after you reach the last page."
—Sue Turnbull, Sydney Morning Herald
- On Sale
- Oct 24, 2017
- Page Count
- 416 pages
- Mulholland Books