Book Review – ‘Big Lies In A Small Town’ by Diane Chamberlain

Title: Big Lies In A Small Town
Author: Diane Chamberlain
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery & Thriller
Word/Page Count: 400 pages (paperback)
Publication Details: by Pan Macmillan Australia on January 14th, 2020
RRP: $29.99 AUD (paperback)


Blurb from Goodreads:

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?

This book isn’t the kind that I would normally read, but it’s made me realize what amazing literary gems I’ve been missing because of my focus on YA and sci-fi/fantasy. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, dual narrators, different timelines and stories about small towns brimming with secrets, this is the book for you. And if like me, quite a few of those elements don’t normally appeal to you, DEFINITELY pick up this book because it’s highly engaging, overflowing with charm and features two female protagonists who you will root for right from the start!

In the present day, Morgan Christopher is released on parole after serving her one-year minimum sentence on the condition that she move to Edenton to restore an old mural. We see her struggle to deal with the terms of her release given that she doesn’t possess the skills required for the task at hand, as well as the ongoing emotional turmoil over the reason she went to prison in the first place. I really liked that proper weight was given to her guilt and anguish in a lovely rewarding emotional arc throughout the story as this could have easily been overlooked in favor of the mystery about why she was plucked from obscurity by a famous artist for a huge undertaking she was completely unqualified to carry out. There is also the narrow window in which she has to complete this near-impossible task adding a sense of urgency to her part of the story.

Back in the 1940s, we accompany Anna Dale to Edenton where she plans to study the town in order to gather inspiration for the post office mural, and where she is convinced to reside a few months to paint the mural rather than returning home as originally planned. She makes waves in the small community as she displaced the prominent local artist who was the crowd favorite to have the honor of painting the mural, but Anna refuses to back down and is determined to create a masterpiece to prove her worth. While this story could have been fairly tame as she settles in and gains both friends and enemies, it’s instead filled with tension as we know from the modern timeline that Anna never completed the installation of the mural and vanished off the face of the earth, with people being convinced she went crazy.


The plot acknowledges the unpleasant reality in both past and present, but briskly steamrollers through it; this isn’t a dramatic story about Morgan getting justice for her wrongful incarceration or about Anna unrealistically erasing the racist beliefs of Edenton in the 40s. It’s more interested in the emotional response of our heroines to these circumstances and how they have to get on with life no matter how unfair it is. I appreciate how the author unflinchingly examines issues that either afflict these women personally or that they bear witness to, including misogyny, alcoholism, racism, mental illness and sexual assault. And yet despite the grim material woven into each of their stories, this remains ultimately a hopeful and uplifting story.

Big Lies in a Small Town is emotionally engaging and offers a couple compelling mysteries that hook you in from the beginning. Both heroines are relatable and easy to invest in, and Edenton in both time periods comes to life bursting with detail and vibrancy. You won’t be able to put this one down!

Personal Rating: 4 out of 5 kitties recommend this book.


Disclaimer: Physical copy provided by publisher free for an unbiased review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

5 thoughts on “Book Review – ‘Big Lies In A Small Town’ by Diane Chamberlain

  1. Pingback: Book Review – ‘Our Dark Secret’ by Jenny Quintana | dreamingofcats

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