Reviewed by Linda Lindsey Davis


Necessary LiesIvy and Mary was here.

These five words are carved into the closet door of an old Raleigh North Carolina home. No one knows the origin of the words but each of the previous owners has been cautioned by their predecessor not to remove the words or cover them up.

Diane Chamberlain’s  latest mystery is set in the South of the 1960s, when the social realities of poverty, social class, and women’s roles were seldom questioned. The story is told by two strong women, who couldn’t be more different.

Fifteen-year-old Ivy Hart lives in a shack. She makes 25-cents an hour working the tobacco fields during the day.  Her 17- year-old sister Mary Ella has a 2-year old son with significant developmental problems. Mary Ella is often gone at night—no one knows where. Ivy struggles to help her chronically-ill grandmother care for Mary Ella’s child, but worries how much longer they can manage before Mary Ella comes home with a second baby.

Fresh out of college, 21-year-old Jane Forrester is impatient to begin her new job as a social worker in rural Grace County, North Carolina. Jane has no experience in this field but she is determined to make a positive difference in the lives of her clients.

The Hart family is Jane’s first client. In reading the family case history, she finds both Ivy and Mary Ella have tested “below average” in IQ testing. Ivy, as well as Mary Ella, has been recommended for sterilization under the state’s eugenics program, and Mary Ella’s son is to be placed in a state institution for the handicapped. Jane’s colleagues at work urge her not to interfere, and her new husband is insistent she put these issues aside and focus more on her own family. Jane comes to believe she must help Ivy and her family, but she is not prepared for what is to follow.

Diane Chamberlain is at the top of her form in fleshing out the character of each of these women and weaving their experiences together to tell a multi-layered story that is both engaging and poignant in explaining how Ivy and Mary was here came to be carved into a closet door. After reading Necessary Lies, the reader is left to wonder: Would I have done what Jane did?

LINDA LINDSEY DAVIS is a contributing editor of LitChat. Read her complete bio here.