Title: Big Lies in a Small Town
Author: Diane Chamberlain
Published: January 14th 2020
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 5 stars
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?
The art world is the vital link that draws two very different women together within an eighty year time gap. Big Lies in a Small Town is the latest novel from international bestselling author Diane Chamberlain, who boasts an impressive back catalogue of twenty six published titles to her name. Big Lies in a Small Town encompasses racism, truth, justice, personal forgiveness and atonement. The compelling authorship of Diane Chamberlain elevated this novel to great heights for this reader.
Deftly navigating the years 2018 and 1940 respectively, Big Lies in a Small Town relays the moving stories of two artists across time and place. In the present day, Morgan Christopher is serving time in jail for a devastating crime that she did not commit. Her plans of becoming a respected artist have been cast aside as she serves time in jail, a three year sentence for a road accident. Morgan’s life takes an unexpected turn when a stranger makes a visit to her in jail. This visitor offers her a get out jail free card. In response, Morgan must commit to completing an old mural, which was originally painted almost eighty years ago. Morgan is apprehensive about her assignment. She is not an art restorer by trade, but she soon learns the ropes, thanks to the support of a museum curator. Morgan’s efforts begin to unveil a hidden story behind the mural. It is an upsetting story of ambition, pride, anger, violence, lies and suppression. The process of restoring the mural to its former glory allows Morgan and the reader to travel back in time to 1940. The original artist of the mural, Anna Dale, arrives in the small town of Edenton in North Carolina, from New Jersey. It is a posting that proves to be ambitious, surprising and deadly. Will this post office mural reveal its long hidden secrets and tumultuous past?
I was really excited to read the latest novel from Diane Chamberlain. Big Lies in a Small Town is a dual timeline based historical fiction novel, that I feel would easily appeal to established and new fans of Diane Chamberlain. I consider myself a firm fan of Chamberlain’s work. I became hooked on her books after I was introduced to her writing through the 2017 novel, The Stolen Marriage. I could see some parallels between Big Lies in a Small Town and The Stolen Marriage. Both these books are set in a similar time period and interrogate issues of race and small town politics. These themes seem to concern Diane Chamberlain and I think she did a great job covering these key ideas in her latest novel.
It is always a little tricky to correctly balance a dual time period novel. The reader must feel situated and invested in both time frames. I think Diane Chamberlain had no troubles in this department. I was equally enamored with both storylines. Employing the compelling literary tool of an art mural, to be created and eventually restored, was an excellent device utilised by the author to draw the audience into this unfolding tale. I also appreciated the shifting chapters that were short and succinct. This stylised format encouraged this reader to turn over just one more page, when in actual fact I should have put the book down many times over to clean, cook and attend to my household. However, everything had to be cast aside for this book. Big Lies in a Small Town was utterly compelling and impossible to ignore!
Both leads were well selected and outlined to great accord. I also liked the looming presence of the third artist, Jesse Williams, who adds an important link to the whole tale. Morgan was an admirable lead and I really enjoyed unpicking her back story. I didn’t expect it to unveil in the way it did, which is a nod to Diane Chamberlain. I liked the soft romance that develops between Morgan and a figure that mentors her in art restoration. In Anna, I enjoyed the mystery around her character, her family history, her pioneering position in Edenton, her willingness to go against the system and employ race defiant artists to support her work. All the way through I lapped up the art references, design work and restoration processes, it was enlightening. I was impressed by the historical padding applied to this novel on behalf of the author. It is well worth your time to explore the Acknowledgements and Author’s Notes. I presumed the town in which the book is largely situated in, Edenton, North Carolina, was fictional, but this was not the case. There is also a snippet of fascinating real life history about the 48- State Mural competition, which was sponsored by the Treasury Department and was operational during the Great Depression. This pocket of history inspired this book’s incredible journey, of a nearby small town who commissioned a mural. I really appreciated this bonus layer.
Sometimes, when a book meets all your expectations and more it is hard to find the words to do that book and the author the credit they deserve. I hope I have managed to convey to you how good Big Lies in a Small Town truly is – five sparkling stars from me!
Big Lies in a Small Town by Diane Chamberlain was published on 14th January 2020 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Big Lies in a Small Town, Diane Chamberlain, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Pan Macmillan for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.