Rosepoint Publishing: Five Stars
North Carolina, 2018:
Morgan Christopher’s life has been derailed. Taking the fall for a crime she did not commit, her dream of a career in art is put on hold – until a mysterious visitor makes her an offer that will get her released from prison immediately. Her assignment: restore an old post office mural in a sleepy Southern town. Morgan knows nothing about art restoration, but desperate to be free, 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 in great need of 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?
A Macmillan Audio production from St. Martin’s Press.
I listened to approximately 45 audiobooks in 2021 (four per month) and if I’d finished this one in time, it would definitely have been included in my favorites list for the year—audiobook or print.
Told from two POVs, in 2018, Morgan Christopher and 1940 Anna Dale. Morgan is sprung from the North Carolina Correctional Facility on a conditional release—the promise to restore a mural that was to have been installed in the Edenton Post Office in 1940. Anna Dale, an artist from New Jersey won a national contest out from under the town artist—considered the shoo-in. From New Jersey! An abomination! What did she know about the south or the town that the mural was to represent? The south is an alien world to Anna and Edenton not exactly thrilled to welcome a northerner.
Morgan’s benefactor, however, is a famous artist, Jesse Jameson, who dedicated himself to young artists with a history. Morgan knew his work and seriously loved it. She dabbled—loved painting—but restoring a mural was something she knew NOTHING about.
Jesse was within months of completing and opening an art gallery at the time of his passing and Morgan’s time frame was two months but when she initially saw the mural, very old, flaking, dusty; she thought impossible.
Completing the mural will keep her out of prison AND she’ll be paid for her work. It’s seriously important. She finds an ally in the project manager and though he’s not an artist can provide some basic start-up instruction in art restoration.
We begin to get filtered narration by Anna, an enormously engaging and sympathetic character, young and naïve, definitely out of her element but very serious about providing the town with the best representation of the area she can. Then as the mural is gradually restored, painstakingly inch by inch, Morgan begins to uncover some disturbing and bizarre inclusions into an otherwise masterful mural. What happened to Anna? Did she go mad?
Anna’s story is mesmerizing, one you can’t tear yourself away from. I loved her philosophy, her openness, and the two boys she took in to help with the work on the mural; especially Jesse. He’s an enigma, a brilliant natural artist, obviously enormously talented. Coming from a “colored” family, however, holds no hope of an artistic career. His family needs his help on the farm and only his aunt encourages and supports his work with Anna. It’s 1940; in the south. And Anna is a white northerner.
What happens next is shocking. A quick intake of breath, a sharp refusal that this is how Anna’s story will end. What happens to Jesse? The mural?
Undeniably the greatest hold is Anna’s story. But Morgan keeps digging and now her heart and soul are in uncovering Anna’s story along with restoration of the mural.
The characters are extremely well developed, the heart goes out to Anna and Jesse, truly the force in this amazing narrative. Storytelling at its finest! From heart-thudding moments to anger, revulsion, and back again to tearful hope. Totally invested in Anna, Jesse, and to a lesser extent Morgan.
Themes of poverty, racism, violence, and rape. Easy to switch back and forth between the POVs, each advancing the tension, the questions swirling maddingly around the mind. How can this be resolved? Or CAN it?
And the conclusion: beautiful.
I read five final nominees in the Goodreads Choice Awards for 2020 and this was not even listed. If I have a problem with a book, I check to see if or why I’m off base in my assessment, pursuing both low and high reviews. It looks as if I’m in agreement with most reviews this time. So, what happened?
This is a truly immersive read from beginning to amazing end. Strong, individual and believable characters. The mural, during the restoration process, took shape and color in my mind becoming both awesomely jaw-dropping and then bewildering, confusing.
Brilliant! Did you read or listen to the audiobook? What was your reaction?
Genre: Family Life Fiction, Psychological Thrillers, Historical Thrillers
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Listening Length: 13 hrs 19 mins
Narrator: Susan Bennett
Publication Date: January 14, 2020
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Title Link: Big Lies in a Small Town [Amazon]
The Author: Diane Chamberlain is the New York Times, USA Today and (London) Sunday Times best-selling author of 27 novels. The daughter of a school principal who supplied her with a new book almost daily, Diane quickly learned the emotional power of story. Although she wrote many small “books” as a child, she didn’t seriously turn to writing fiction until her early thirties when she was waiting for a delayed doctor’s appointment with nothing more than a pad, a pen, and an idea. She was instantly hooked.
Diane was born and raised in Plainfield, New Jersey and lived for many years in both San Diego and northern Virginia. She received her master’s degree in clinical social work from San Diego State University. Prior to her writing career, she was a hospital social worker in both San Diego and Washington, D.C, and a psychotherapist in private practice in Alexandria, Virginia, working primarily with adolescents.
More than two decades ago, Diane was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, which changed the way she works: She wrote two novels using voice recognition software before new medication allowed her to get back to typing. She feels fortunate that her arthritis is not more severe and that she’s able to enjoy everyday activities as well as keep up with a busy travel schedule.
Diane lives in North Carolina with her significant other, photographer John Pagliuca, and their odd but lovable Shetland Sheepdog, Cole.
Please visit Diane’s website at http://www.dianechamberlain.com for her event schedule and for more information on her newest novel, Big Lies in a Small Town, as well as a complete list of her books.
The Narrator: [NOTE: I think this is the correct Susan Bennett. If it is not, please let me know and I’ll correct immediately.] Susan Alice Bennett is an American voice actress and a former backup singer for Roy Orbison and Burt Bacharach. She is best known as the female American voice of Apple’s Siri personal assistant, since the service was introduced on the iPhone 4S on October 4, 2011. Wikipedia
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