Most of us keep secrets from those we love—whether it’s simply misdirection about how much that new dress really cost or an outright lie like what really happened at the work party your partner couldn’t attend.
But in Wanda Morris’s All Her Little Secrets, attorney Ellice Littlejohn has taken it to a new level. Sure, she graduated from an Ivy League Law School and she’s extremely bright and hardworking. She’s also the only Black lawyer at the company where she works. Indeed, she is just one of a few Blacks working there at all. Which explains why there’s a constant stream of protestors outside the company’s building protesting their hiring practices.
But who is Ellice? She’s not from Atlanta, Georgia like she tells everyone. Instead, she grew up in a poverty-stricken small town where she lived with her alcoholic mother and sadistic stepfather. She did attend a prestigious boarding school, but it was as on an academic scholarship not because she was a rich kid like most of the other students. And no, she’s not an only child, but her brother Sam, who she dearly loves, has been in and out of jail. That’s not the kind of back story Ellice has created for herself. It doesn’t go with the fancy condo, expensive clothes and car that define her Atlanta lifestyle, one she’s perfected to keep others from finding out about her past including what exactly happened to her stepfather whose body has never been found.
All these falsehoods start to unravel when she takes the elevator up to the 20th floor to meet with Michael, her boss, for one of their all-too frequent early morning meetings. But Michael’s dead, an apparent suicide and Ellice instead of calling for help, leaves.
Michael is also her long-time lover. The problem, at least it would be for some women, is that he’s married. But Ellice isn’t sure if she loves him nor is she certain she wants to take over his job when offered that plum promotion. She’s been keeping secrets for too long to know what she wants or how she feels.
As complicated as all this is, it becomes even more so when the police discover Michael was murdered. To add to the stress, Ellice’s brother Sam was caught on camera using his sister’s ID to get past security at the office. Did Ellice have Sam kill Michael so she could get his job and his plush office (redecorated, of course), or did she kill him herself? And why won’t the police believe her when she tells them that Michael had discovered criminal activity on the 20th floor?
Morris, who has held positions as an attorney in several Fortune 100 companies, says she thinks both her work as Black female lawyer and her fascination with thrillers helped shape the story.
“Ellice’s experiences are an amalgam of what many women experience in their lives,” says Morris, who is married with three children and lives in Atlanta. “Think about it, you are the only women working in a predominantly white male space and your colleagues despise you simply because of your race and/or gender and put obstacles in front of you.”
A fan of mystery/thriller writers like Karin Slaughter, Lucy Foley, Walter Mosley and Joe Ide, Morris wants readers to see the distinctive viewpoint Black female writers can bring to the genre.
“I’ve always enjoyed books by other thriller authors like John Grisham and Joseph Finder, but I couldn’t find many books like theirs with female protagonists who liked me,” she says. “Black women should be able to find themselves in all types of books including thrillers with smart, sophisticated Black women chasing down bad guys through dark office towers at night without a gun or an ounce of regret.”