"Big Lies in a Small Town"

Diane Chamberlain’s absorbing book is a fictional murder mystery with a background based on the 1948 State Mural Competition sponsored by the Treasury Department.

The competition was a means by which artists during the Depression could have some economic relief. Artwork was submitted anonymously to the Treasury Department and winners were chosen—their murals, submitted within a certain time frame, would decorate an interior wall of a post office in every state.

In the novel, Anna Dale, a graduate of a New Jersey School of Art, is selected to complete the mural designated for Edenton, North Carolina, in 1939. She is given $720 to use for travel, supplies, housing and models, if needed. The award coincides with the death of her mother, the last of her living family, so Anna is grateful for the new opportunity. The prestigious commission also would give credence to her talent and superior artistic abilities.

Fast forward to 2018--near Edenton a young woman named Morgan Christopher, who has some artistic ability and training, has been selected to restore the mural begun by Anna Dale in 1939. Jesse Jameson Williams, a famous local artist recently deceased, decreed in his will that the restoration only be done only by Morgan. The mural was mysteriously left unfinished by Anna, and has been stored by Williams for years.

Morgan is serving a jail sentence for manslaughter when she learns that she will be paroled for the remaining months of her sentence, that she will live with William’s adult daughter, and will have to restore the mural within two months.

Chapters alternate between a third-person narration set in Anna’s period of time, 1939 in Edenton, and Morgan’s first-person telling of the mural restoration in the same town in 2018. It is a mystery as to why Morgan, with little experience in art restoration, has been chosen to complete the mural.

The novel culminates with an explanation for Anna’s abandonment of the mural and the reason Morgan has been chosen to restore the art piece. In between are two stories of the main characters that are riveting and chilling.

Those who follow Diane Chamberlain’s work, the author of the best-selling book “The Silent Sister,” and many other novels, will relish this story. I am a new fan of Chamberlain.