46 pages 1 hour read

Wanda M. Morris

All Her Little Secrets

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2021

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Summary and Study Guide


Wanda M. Morris’s 2021 debut novel All Her Little Secrets explores race, discrimination, and ethics in the corporate world. The thriller centers around Ellice Littlejohn, a Black lawyer at Houghton Transportation, who discovers the body of her murdered boss Michael Sayles. After Houghton promotes Ellice to Michael’s job, she uncovers illegal activity at the company as the police suspect her of murdering Michael. Morris emphasizes themes of racism in the corporate world and the questions of justice and ethics at the intersection of race.

This study guide refers to the 2021 Harper Collins print edition. Interspersed between the book’s numbered chapters are short, non-numbered chapters titled "Chillicothe, Georgia." This guide refers to these sections as “interludes” for ease of reference.

Content Warning: The source material contains racism, discrimination, and white supremacy. Additionally, the source material contains misogyny, violence, sexual assault, and child abuse.

Plot Summary

Ellice Littlejohn works as an assistant general counsel at Houghton Transportation in Atlanta, Georgia. She arrives early to the office to meet her boss, Michael Sayles, who she is having an affair with. Ellice discovers Michael’s body in his office, with a gunshot wound to the head. Rather than calling the police, Ellice leaves the body for someone else to find.

As the police investigate the scene of the crime, Nate Ashe, the CEO of Houghton, promotes Ellice to Michael’s position. Ellice attends a Houghton cocktail party to meet the board members. She talks with Hardy King, Houghton’s head of security, who tells her that Michael was working on a confidential deal with Jonathan Everett, the chief financial officer, before he died.

Ellice notices discrepancies in the activities of Max Lumpkin, the executive vice president in Operations, and Jonathan at Houghton. Neither of them will tell her about a deal with a company called Libertad. As Michael’s wife, Anna, requests Ellice’s help to discover the truth behind Michael’s death, she finds out that Michael enlisted the help of Geoffrey Gallagher, an outside attorney, to consult him with the Libertad deal. When she returns to Houghton, Detective Bradford shows Ellice video footage of a man using her missing ID badge to enter the Houghton lobby the day before Michael’s murder. Ellice does not divulge that the man is her brother, Sam, and instead goes to Sam’s house and finds her ID badge and a burner phone. Noticing that Sam’s phone has texts from the same number on Michael’s paperwork from Gallagher, she calls it. When she hears a ringing behind her, an unknown person attacks Ellice and takes the burner phone and her ID badge.

Ellice discovers that Gallagher is missing when she attempts to contact him herself. Sam calls Ellice and tells her that Jonathan hired him to trail Gallagher, and she tells him that she thinks Jonathan is trying to frame Sam for murder. He doesn’t believe her, and when she gets into her car to leave for the day, she finds an envelope on her windshield. The envelope contains a news article from 1979 that sends her into a flashback to Chillicothe when Willie Jay, her stepfather, began raping her at night. After looking through the company’s bank accounts, Ellice discovers that Houghton is laundering money to Libertad.

Jonathan hires Sam to drive a stolen car outside of Atlanta in the middle of the night. The car breaks down and Sam finds Gallagher’s body in the trunk. He realizes that Jonathan is trying to frame him, but a car pulls up next to him and the driver shoots him.

Ellice identifies Sam’s body at the coroner’s office. Detective Bradford suspects that Ellice killed Sam and Michael, but Ellice tells her about Jonathan’s involvement. The next day, Jonathan threatens to expose Ellice’s secrets about Chillicothe if she continues to talk to the police. Ellice sneaks into Max’s office at night and takes a thumb drive she finds in his drawer. On the thumb drive, Ellice finds a file that outlines every crime and secret from her past as well as a white supremacist manifesto for a hate group called “The Brethren.” Ellice discovers that Max tried to enlist Michael in The Brethren, but he refused.

When Ellice heads to the police station, Rudy tells her that there is a warrant out for her arrest and that she should hire a lawyer Soon. Instead, Ellice finalizes Sam’s funeral plans, and visits their childhood neighbor Vera’s farmhouse in Chillicothe. While at Vera’s house, Ellice has a flashback to when she was pregnant at 14. Vera gave Ellice an abortion and she told Vera that Willie Jay impregnated her. A month later, Willie Jay almost killed Sam by locking him in a shed in the middle of July. With Vera’s help, she poisons Willie Jay and throws his body in the river behind their house.

Desperate to find evidence against Jonathan, Ellice tracks down the person who connected Sam with Jonathan at a gun store. Ellice discovers that Hardy posed as Jonathan to hire Sam and she finds out that Hardy bought large shipments of guns for The Brethren. Since she knows Hardy killed her brother, she returns to Houghton late at night. She confronts Hardy, they fight, and Hardy falls into an out-of-order empty elevator shaft to his death. When the police arrive, Ellice gives Detective Bradford the thumb drive and tells her about Hardy, the money laundering, and the gun trafficking.

Detective Bradford comes to see Ellice on her last day to tell her that Hardy and The Brethren were supplying guns to other white supremacist hate groups across the country, with the intention of attacking Martin Luther King, Jr. Day parades. Ellice is glad that her time at Houghton has come to an end. Ellice takes Vera out of her nursing home so they can live in Vera’s old house, hopeful that they can make Chillicothe their home.