North Carolina, 2018: Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, she finds herself serving a three-year stint in the North Carolina Women’s Correctional Center. Her dream of a career in art is put on hold—until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will see her released immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to leave prison, she accepts. What she finds under the layers of grime is a painting that tells the story of madness, violence, and a conspiracy of small town secrets.
North Carolina, 1940: Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey, wins a national contest to paint a mural for the post office in Edenton, North Carolina. Alone in the world and desperate for work, she accepts. But what she doesn’t expect is to find herself immersed in a town where prejudices run deep, where people are hiding secrets behind closed doors, and where the price of being different might just end in murder.
What happened to Anna Dale? Are the clues hidden in the decrepit mural? Can Morgan overcome her own demons to discover what exists beneath the layers of lies? (From the Book Blurb)
This was my first book by Diane Chamberlain and what a compulsive read it turned out to be! As soon as I finish this review I’m off to see if I can borrow any other books by this fabulous writer.
Big lies in a small town alternates between two timelines, both of which I found equally compelling. In 2018 a former art student Morgan Christopher is serving a prison sentence for a crime she didn’t commit. When Lisa Williams, daughter of a famous, recently deceased painter Jesse Williams, and Andrea Fuller, a successful lawyer, make her an offer to restore an old mural in exchange for being released from the the prison, Morgan is extremely surprised. Jesse Williams was known for helping young people who found themselves on the wrong side of the law or in other difficult circumstances to find a way out and get again on their feet, but all his previous ‘protegees’ were Afro-American, and Morgan isn’t. Neither does she know anything about art restoration, but she’s been threatened, cut and severely beaten in the prison, and this is her only chance to get to if not freedom, at least to relative safety. She will just have to learn as quickly as possible and do her best to bring the damaged painting back to life. The mural was supposed to hang in the post office of a small town of Edenton, North Carolina, but something happened to the artist Anna Dale and it was never installed.
In 1940 twenty-two year old Anna Dale wins an art competion and is commisioned to paint a mural. Only she won’t be able to use her preliminary sketch, because it will depict the history and essence of a completely different town, town she has never been to, and that is Edenton, North Carolina. Anna decided she needs a research trip, but when she meets the town ‘movers and shakers’, local political and business elite, they tell her that a local male artist also participated in the competition and they would have preferred him and not a young and inexperienced girl wo doesn’t know anything about the town and has no connection to it. Having recently lost her beloved mother, Anna has no one who would care for her presence in New Jersey, so she is easily persuaded to stay and work in Edenton. Very soon she begins to realize how hard it will be to complete her mural amidst pernicious prejudices, blatant misogyny, secrets and lies that will lead to tragic events.
The narrative moved easily between the two timelines and soon it was impossible to put the book down until I found out why Jesse Williams had chosen Morgan to restore the mural and how the two protagonists were connected. There is a mystery element, of course, but the issues the book deals with go way beyond it – racism, prejudice, gender equality, alcoholism, family ties, mental illness, love and forgiveness are all explored in this beautifully-written story. Both protagonists are young, vulnerable women who face a lot of adversity and show a lot of inner strength and integrity.
Big lies in a small town is a powerful and thought-provoking story which I highly recommend to all lovers of general fiction, and, in particular, those who like strong female leads.
Thank you to Edelweiss and St.Martin’s Press for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.
- Have you read Big Lies in a Small Town or is it on your tbr? If you’ve read the book, which timeline did you find more interesting?
- Have you read any other books by Diane Chamberlain?