Diane Chamberlain’s Big Lies in a Small Town (St. Martin’s 2020) is fantastic, page-turning thriller of a candy book. Chamberlain is a North Carolina author, and the novel is set in sleepy Edenton, which is not far from where I grew up. One of the characters is even from Cary, which is where I currently live. I do love a book set in NC.
The mystery of the novel unfolds in dual timelines. Anna Dale is painting a mural in 1940 and Morgan Christopher is restoring that same mural in 2018. As Anna paints and Morgan restores, secrets, lies and a dead body tumble forth.
Anna is from New Jersey, and Edenton is so very different from what she’s accustomed to. When she entered the national contest to paint murals for post offices, her choice was not Edenton. It wasn’t anywhere in the South. But she was selected and given the opportunity to paint the mural in the quaint, waterfront town. She needs the money, so she accepts. There are some hiccups. She’s an unchaperoned Northerner who wears pants and fraternizes easily with Jesse, a young Black man, and his family. There’s also some bitterness because the town’s resident painter lost the contest, and to a woman from New Jersey at that.
Morgan Christopher is in prison following being convicted of her third DUI, this time seriously injuring a young woman. She’s been sentenced to a minimum of one year and a maximum of three. At the one-year mark, two strangers show up with a proposition that would grant her freedom. The former art major is asked to restore a mural in Edenton, NC. She had been named specifically for the project in the will of a well-known artist from the town. Morgan, a recovering alcoholic, battles her demons, makes friends, and uncovers a bombshell of a mystery buried since 1940.
I don’t like that Morgan wasn’t actually driving the car and took the fall for her boyfriend. (That’s not a spoiler.) I felt like that was a missed opportunity. That’s really my only quibble. The dual timeline was crafted beautifully, and the pace is perfect. The characters are compelling, and the writing is tight and focused. Overall, it’s a gripping novel that will keep you turning the pages to find out what secrets the mural holds, and what Morgan’s connection to the mural and Edenton is. It’s delicious candy.
Read this book.