“Small Town Big Secrets” by Dee Harris

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While it might sound like Small Town Big Secrets (Atlantic Publishing 2022) is a breezy summer read, there’s a lot going on in Dee Harris’s novel.

When Ora Collins misses church (“the first time in fourteen years”), everyone who has ever lived in a small town will know that something is greatly amiss. This time she’s being questioned by a police detective, and that’s certainly one of the few things that could keep her from her regular date with the Lord. Ora’s the best person to go to for information, as the detective quickly learns, what with Ora being the unofficial chronicler of Hattiesville, Mississippi. That’s a kind way of saying that Ora Collins is a snoop and a gossip, bless her heart. As much as she knows about the town and its residents, though, the detective’s reason for turning up on her doorstep takes her by surprise: “Someone’s dead.”

But let’s go back to when it all started, two and a half months before the detective found Ora. The annual high school play is in rehearsals, and the star of the show has just dropped a bombshell confession on his parents. Small town grapevines are practically clairvoyant, so that particular secret isn’t secret for long. Ah, but everyone has a secret, right? Gambling, graft, adultery. Even the puritanical Ora Collins keeps a few things about her past locked away.

Author Dee Harris has deftly used Ora’s opening scene to let the reader in on who’s who and what’s what in Hattiesville. As the story unfolds through shifting perspectives, the characters grow ever deeper and more complex.

Harris is a born storyteller who knows how to present a riveting tale and keep the reader breathless as she peels back the layers on her characters and begins weaving their threads together. The clock ticks and tensions rise as all the players are drawn tighter into a net of deceit.

You know these people. You can give them the names of your own friends, neighbors, relatives. If you’ve ever lived in a small town or in a community or neighborhood within a city, you’ve met Ora and Tracy and Krystal. You’ve suspected they’re up to something even though you like them just fine. Dee Harris has drawn her characters with such minute strokes that they come to life and take over the story. Perhaps you’ll even spot yourself in this story.

In her author’s note, Harris suggests we should celebrate our differences:

“I thought I could write a novel that explored the psychological trauma a person goes through when not living an authentic life….I believe there is room for movement in understanding that we are all different, and there is beauty in…[celebrating] the differences between each other….”

Some of the more topical storylines will spark conversation (ideal for book discussion groups), but may also make the reader wiggle a bit, but discomfort opens up opportunities for deep discussion and self reflection. In that regard, Harris has given us a bonus over and above the smoothly entertaining story of Small Town Big Secrets; she’s built a window to worlds we might not otherwise have glimpsed.

Small Town Big Secrets is Dee Harris’s first foray into writing contemporary fiction. She spent many years in the world of academia, teaching English courses at the college level. Dee also writes historical fiction under a pseudonym.


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