BIG LIES IN A SMALL TOWN - by Diane Chamberlain

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?


Published: January 2020 - Pan Macmillan.

Genre: Adult / historical fiction / thriller.

Pages: 400. 

Triggers/Content Advisory: Violence / one explicit rape scene / themes of racism and abuse.  

Format: Paperback.

Source: Thank you so much to Pan Macmillan SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. I voluntarily read and reviewed this book. All thoughts are my own. 

Purchase a copy

I felt like losing myself in a book. This novel created a world - and characters - I couldn't turn away from, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  

The writing flows beautifully. It’s easy to read, the dialogue is solid, and the only downside is that there is a lot of telling instead of showing. But even this didn’t bother me as much as it could have, because I was so enjoying the story.

I love that the book dives into the story immediately. There’s no waffling or frustrating build-up, because the very first chapter begins with Morgan being visited in prison and offered the deal to restore the mural. This also allowed me to get won over by Morgan’s character immediately, and I was hooked from that moment. 

The small town setting is good, as well. The history of the people and the town is complicated and flawed, but also fully realised and atmospheric. You get a strong sense of place. The setting is a character in itself. 

  You have to make peace with the past or you can never move into the future.

The rest of the plot is strong, too. The characters have  motivations that drive their actions (and the plot), and there’s plenty of intrigue and secrets to keep you turning the pages. My only disappointment regarding the plot came towards the end of the book. I can’t give spoilers, but something horrific happens and I don’t think the author handled it with enough nuance and gravity. It felt almost melodramatic - a step too far in the novel’s grand story. And as a result, it’s disappointing that the story doesn’t end as strongly as it begins. 

I really liked the characters. While no one is particularly three-dimensional, they’re still so compelling and entertaining and their roles in the story so firmly established. I loved Ana and Morgan - they have such fierce and distinctive personalities, and I was so invested in their journeys (particularly Morgan’s). Their dual timelines worked well, too. 

Big Lies In A Small Town is an utterly engrossing, small town contemporary drama led by two admirable heroines.  

No comments