All Her Little Secrets
by Wanda M. Morris
William Morrow—November 2021
Usually for my book reviews, I spend quite a lot of time researching potential picks. I analyze everything from the sales numbers, their genres, the publishing pedigree of the author, and much more. Furthermore, I’m very meticulous about what piece I select for each review—and why. And, surprising to no one who knows me, this is a characteristic that transfers over to almost every aspect of my life.
Yes. I admit it. I, Peter Malone Elliott, am a control freak. Nice to meet you.
However, this month, I wanted to buck that trend, go against my inherent nature, and do something I’ve never done before: take a blind recommendation and just go with it.
Throw caution to the wind.
Let the chips fall where they may.
I’m trying to think of a third clichéd expression but … I stepped up to the plate and struck out.
See what I did there? I know, I know—hold your applause.
In any event, I put out a call on Twitter for suggestions, and the wonderful Chantelle Aimée Osman, an editor at Agora Books, immediately directed me towards All Her Little Secrets, the debut thriller from Wanda M. Morris. In the spirit of this endeavor, I immediately ordered it. I barely even took the time to read what it was about—other than the fact that it was an #OwnVoices thriller set in Georgia. So, I went into it with essentially a clean slate.
Which was exhilarating.
But also, I was admittedly hesitant.
I’m delighted to say that not only was reading All Her Little Secrets the complete antithesis of that—but it proved to me that, sometimes, the best thing you can do is take your hands off the wheel and let the car drive itself.
Metaphorically speaking, of course. Don’t worry, Mom—I’m not driving around Brooklyn sans hands.
All Her Little Secrets follows Ellice Littlejohn, the lone, black, corporate attorney at a company under-fire in the media for their diversity hiring practices—or lack thereof. For now, though, Ellice is just putting her head down—focused on excelling in her position and keeping the flame stoked on the clandestine relationship she’s having with her boss, Michael. Everything stops on a dime, though, when she finds Michael dead in his office of an apparent suicide. But when Ellice is almost immediately promoted to replace Michael, she becomes suspicious of the company’s true objectives. Making matters even worse is the fact that Ellice has a deep, dark secret from her past—something that, if revealed, would be the end of her life as she knows it. As Ellice starts to investigate further her company’s murky activities, and Michael’s death is in fact ruled a murder, she becomes entangled in a deadly conspiracy that has vile intentions—one that will threaten to expose everything she has worked so hard to keep buried.
All Her Little Secrets is a svelte, tightly-crafted thriller that will undoubtedly satisfy fans of the genre. The plot is shot through with twisty, tense suspense. The themes touch on incredibly relevant social/racial issues that plague humanity, and the main character is a richly-crafted, yet highly-flawed woman who is both familiar and mysterious. Achieving and intertwining all that as effortlessly as Morris does is an incredibly delicate balancing act. Equal parts psychological thriller and gripping mystery, All Her Little Secrets completely deserves all of the plaudits it’s receiving. The authenticity of the novel’s corporate legal backdrop really shines, too—an obvious product of Morris’ own career in that field.
The thing that impressed me most, though, was how Morris utilized one of the most difficult-to-nail structural elements that a piece of fiction, regardless of the medium, can attempt to execute: the dual timeline.
Oftentimes, when a writer tries to implement a dual timeline into their work, it feels forced—an inorganic excuse for them to try and jam unnecessary exposition or flashbacks into the narrative. It takes an incredibly deft hand to weave those two threads together and make sure that they are integral to one another, hand-in-hand—a skill that eludes most who try it, frankly. I can attest to how truly difficult it is, as I’m attempting to do that in the novel I’m currently working on myself.
So, to see an author do it as skillfully as Morris has not only been an inspiration for me, but has rejuvenated my overall faith in the practice of dual timelines itself. Not since the first season of True Detective have I seen a writer use it to such mesmerizing effect. The way Morris navigates between Ellice’s traumatic childhood in Chillicothe, Georgia in the late 1970s and present-day Atlanta—and inextricably links them with life-or-death consequences—is nothing short of masterful.
It’s hard to believe, frankly, that Morris did all of this with such finely-tuned aplomb in her debut novel. But, by God, you better believe that it’s all there, and then some. I cannot wait to see what she does in her next work—and I have no doubt that she’ll soar above the high bar she’s set for herself with All Her Little Secrets.
And next time I get a blind recommendation from someone I trust? I’m going to take it—and this time without any hesitation.
Take that, control-freak Peter.
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