Reads of the Week

Big Lies in a Small Town

Diane Chamberlain


Review: Roshiela Moonsamy

The plot of Big Lies in a Small Town centres on a mural that was created to adorn a wall in the post office of a town called Edenton in North Carolina in the USA.

The story goes back and forth between 1940, when the mural was being painted, and 2018, when it is being restored.

In the present day, Morgan Christopher gets sprung out of jail by Lisa Williams, the daughter of well-known and late artist, Jesse Williams. In his will, Jesse specifies that Morgan must be the one to restore the mural in time for the opening of his gallery.

Although an art student, Morgan has no idea why she was chosen and an even bigger mystery is what happened to the mural, why was it never installed in the post office, and especially, what happened to the artist, another young woman named Anna Dale.

Back in 1940, Anna is one of the winning artists in the 48-States Mural Competition.

The only problem is that her entry was for a post office in her home state of New Jersey, but she was being offered the assignment for a town in North Carolina.

Anna, who has recently lost her mother, heads off to take on her first paying job. It is also her first time away from home.

What she finds in Edenton is a town passionate about its history, irritated that their own town artist, Martin Drapple had not been awarded the mural, and unsure that a woman could be up to the task.

In addition to the sexism she must endure, Anna also finds Edenton to be a racially segregated town where old prejudices run deep.

Eyebrows are raised when a talented black high school pupil, Jesse, only a few years younger than her, starts helping with the mural and Anna starts spending far too much time working at her studio in an old warehouse.

Even Jesse’s own family is concerned for his safety and Anna understands why as her landlady, Myrtle Simms, tells her of a time when black men and boys had been beaten and lynched for getting too close to white

Ms Myrtle said it didn’t happen anymore “and certainly not in Edenton” but the worry on Jesse’s parents’ faces tells Anna they didn’t want their son to be Edenton’s first. Sure enough something dreadful happens. In fact, what happened to Anna was more horrific than I could have imagined.

As I read this book, scenes of protests across America flashed across my television screen. They were ignited after yet another unarmed black person was killed at the hands of police. George Floyd, 46, died in Minneapolis after a white police officer, pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck as he was face down on the street.

Floyd had begged that he couldn’t breathe.

Although Big Lies in a Small Town is a work of fiction, I couldn’t help but draw parallels when in the story there are fears from Anna and Jesse’s family that he would be treated unfairly by police and blamed for the incidents that turned their lives around.

The sad part is that the story was set in an America of 80 years ago and the calls for equal rights are still being made today.

More recently, author Dianne Chamberlain spent time in the real town of Edenton where she stumbled upon the Racial Reconciliation group that had met at the United Methodist Church for several years.

Through the group she met two African-American men, Norman Brinkley and historian Dr Ben Speller, who were boys in Edenton in the 1940s and gave her some idea of what Jesse’s life would have been like.

Her observations of the group led Chamberlain to believe the community was making progress in reconciliation.

This is also a coming-of-age story in some respects as Anna and Morgan are both young artists who come from unstable families and find themselves struggling self-doubt as they take on massive projects.

In Morgan’s case, she doesn’t even know how to restore artwork and there is alot hinging on her success.

They are united by the mural, which has stories of its own to tell.

This story is easy to follow, the characters are finely drawn and the intrigue doesn’t stop until the final pages.

A Lute of Eleven Strings

Jane Kirsten

Porcupine Press

Review: Lauren O’Connor-May

This book is poetically written and is a thoroughly enjoyable departure from the historical fiction mould.

It is set in 15th century France and tells the story of five generations of the De La Porte family, surviving brutal religious oppression.

At the centre of the story is grandson Luc, who is forced to flee from the family’s bookshop home in Paris after he is seen attending covert protestant meetings.

He goes to his grand uncle’s home in Flanders where he is schooled in the weaving trade and falls in love.

After he marries, he and his wife and children spread across the continent as they hide from or rebel against persecution.

Along the way, they experience both sides of the persecution coin, meet interesting historical figures, make unlikely friends and experience a lot of heartache and joy.

While the story is intrinsically about a family of covert French protestants, it is also a story about political warfare and the painful cost it counts in religious persecution.

The book was born out of the authors’ research into her own French forebears. The cover summary says Ms Kirsten, who lives in the Boland area, intended the book as a legacy for her own descendants.

I enjoyed this slow-paced book because the characters were richly layered and artfully written.

What other historical fiction writers do across dozens of books, Ms Kirsten does in one, without losing any nuances or texture and with an extra bit of grace to boot.

When I Was Ten

Fiona Cummins

Pan Macmillan

Review: Karen Watkins

This is a gripping thriller that can easily be devoured in one sitting.

It begins with a child running through rain to Saltbox Hill.

People in the nearby village are hunkered down in preparation against an imminent storm. The air vibrates with thunder. The child has told a lie. A whopper. There’s no way back. And then she’s struck by lightning.

The next day the village wakes to hear the parents are dead. One of the children is covered in blood. It’s cut and dried who the murderer is, or is it?

To the outside world sisters Sara and Shannon Carter have an idyllic childhood.

They live in a beautiful house on Saltbox Hill with their parents, a respectable doctor and a housewife.

But inside the house their parents are abusive and evil, making their daughters’ lives miserable.

The characters set the scene of this gripping read that will have you guessing until the final pages. I certainly didn’t see the final one coming.

Catherine Allen’s husband Edward is acting strangely as is their 13-year-old daughter Honor who is hiding something.

Her life stops when she watches her sister on the news talking about when their parents were brutally stabbed with scissors and killed.

Brinley Booth lived next door to the sisters and was their best friend. She grows up to become a journalist and is hoping for a breaking news story.

Fiona Cummins writes with empathy in this, her fourth novel. She lives in Essex with her family and dog.

We received 72 entries in the competition for the book Reggie & Me. The winner was Emelda Africa of Lotus River.