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Quiet Dell

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From one of America’s most accomplished and acclaimed fiction writers, a chilling, spectacularly riveting novel based on a real life multiple murder by a con man who preyed on widows—a story that has haunted Jayne Anne Phillips for more than four decades. Jayne Anne Phillips’s debut collection, Black Tickets, galvanized critics and readers when it was published in 1979 and From one of America’s most accomplished and acclaimed fiction writers, a chilling, spectacularly riveting novel based on a real life multiple murder by a con man who preyed on widows—a story that has haunted Jayne Anne Phillips for more than four decades. Jayne Anne Phillips’s debut collection, Black Tickets, galvanized critics and readers when it was published in 1979 and announced her as one of the great new voices of her generation. Her four novels, prizewinners and reader favorites, have secured her place as one of America’s most celebrated storytellers. In Quiet Dell, Phillips re-imagines a gruesome crime in a tiny West Virginia community not far from where she grew up. In Chicago in 1931, Asta Eicher, mother of three, is lonely and despairing, pressed for money after the sudden death of her husband. She begins to receive seductive letters from a chivalrous, elegant man named Harry Powers, who promises to cherish and protect her, ultimately to marry her and to care for her and her children. Weeks later, the family are dead. Emily Thornhill, one of the few women in the Chicago press, covers the case and becomes deeply invested in understanding what happened to this beautiful family, particularly to the youngest child, Annabel, an enchanting girl with a precocious imagination and sense of magic. Bold and intrepid, Emily allies herself with the Chicago banker who funds the investigation and who is wracked by guilt for not saving Asta. Driven by secrets of their own, the heroic characters in this magnificent tale will stop at nothing to ensure that Powers is convicted. A mesmerizing retelling of a harrowing crime, Quiet Dell is a tour de force of obsession and imagination.

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From one of America’s most accomplished and acclaimed fiction writers, a chilling, spectacularly riveting novel based on a real life multiple murder by a con man who preyed on widows—a story that has haunted Jayne Anne Phillips for more than four decades. Jayne Anne Phillips’s debut collection, Black Tickets, galvanized critics and readers when it was published in 1979 and From one of America’s most accomplished and acclaimed fiction writers, a chilling, spectacularly riveting novel based on a real life multiple murder by a con man who preyed on widows—a story that has haunted Jayne Anne Phillips for more than four decades. Jayne Anne Phillips’s debut collection, Black Tickets, galvanized critics and readers when it was published in 1979 and announced her as one of the great new voices of her generation. Her four novels, prizewinners and reader favorites, have secured her place as one of America’s most celebrated storytellers. In Quiet Dell, Phillips re-imagines a gruesome crime in a tiny West Virginia community not far from where she grew up. In Chicago in 1931, Asta Eicher, mother of three, is lonely and despairing, pressed for money after the sudden death of her husband. She begins to receive seductive letters from a chivalrous, elegant man named Harry Powers, who promises to cherish and protect her, ultimately to marry her and to care for her and her children. Weeks later, the family are dead. Emily Thornhill, one of the few women in the Chicago press, covers the case and becomes deeply invested in understanding what happened to this beautiful family, particularly to the youngest child, Annabel, an enchanting girl with a precocious imagination and sense of magic. Bold and intrepid, Emily allies herself with the Chicago banker who funds the investigation and who is wracked by guilt for not saving Asta. Driven by secrets of their own, the heroic characters in this magnificent tale will stop at nothing to ensure that Powers is convicted. A mesmerizing retelling of a harrowing crime, Quiet Dell is a tour de force of obsession and imagination.

30 review for Quiet Dell

  1. 5 out of 5

    karen

    this is one of those "labor of love" projects authors undertake that are ultimately more meaningful for them than interesting for their audience. there is nothing bad about the novel, not at all, but it unfolds in a well-intentioned but somewhat self-indulgent way that ends up reading more like a personal, therapeutic exercise than an entertaining novel. quiet dell is based on a true crime case that haunted phillips; the story of a man in the 1930's who courted wealthy widows through lonely heart this is one of those "labor of love" projects authors undertake that are ultimately more meaningful for them than interesting for their audience. there is nothing bad about the novel, not at all, but it unfolds in a well-intentioned but somewhat self-indulgent way that ends up reading more like a personal, therapeutic exercise than an entertaining novel. quiet dell is based on a true crime case that haunted phillips; the story of a man in the 1930's who courted wealthy widows through lonely hearts ads, promised them marriage and stability and kindness, and then killed them. phillips spent years writing this novel, and it is clear that she did her research, to give this one murdered family; a mother and three children, a memorial of sorts. here is a link to some of the real-life bits: http://www.wvgazette.com/mediafiles/d... a lot of it is quite good. the first section is the strongest - where we meet the family soon to be slaughtered. which is problematic. we are introduced to them as humans with distinct personalities and dreams and talents, even though we know they are going to be brutally murdered. this is so we all feel the same outrage as phillips felt, the outrage that made her write this book in the first place. but when they are the most interesting and three-dimensional characters we are going to meet in the book, it feels doubly cruel when they are taken away. i appreciate that she was so inspired and moved by the crime that she felt she had to give the eichers a voice and shine a light on a case that few may have heard about. but despite such fascinating source material, i found myself frequently bored. which makes me feel callous, but there it is. the idea of this charismatic predator who took advantage of desperate women reaching out for companionship in a time where these sorts of crimes were less common, and women trusted in human decency and the idea of finding their prince that is so heartbreakingly abused by this man - this idea should have been enough to carry the novel, but i felt that the story as written just wasn't enough to hold my interest. the romantic angle in this was the weakest element. i am not a fan of that YA staple of insta-love, but i can excuse it in novels that are intended for a younger audience whose hormones are all a-raging and are accustomed to instant-gratification and fast pacing in their books, where details are sometimes spared. grown humans know better, or should. and i just don't buy that an adult woman in the nineteen thirties, in a male-dominated profession who has had to prove herself time and again, would throw herself at a married man in, like, an hour. and for the two of them to fall instantly and all-encompassingly in love, particularly since she was enmeshed in a criminal case where women were murdered when they were too trusting of strange men, it just doesn't wash. i kept waiting for the situation to turn, to become dangerous, but no. this novel operates in a fantasy land where victimized women get justice and passionate, intelligent women are objects of considerate worship, orphans get rescued, dogs help solve crimes, and ghosts flit around observing the wreckage of their deaths until justice is done. emily is a journalist, drawn to the case, and she goes through the novel, attracting men to her like flies to honey, including a homosexual man who instantly feels comfortable letting his guard down around her (and maybe more) and sharing the secret he kept from all others, while also sexually attracting a bevy of heterosexual men and rescuing an orphan and righting wrongs wherever she goes, with more latitude than she seems to have earned. it reads like pure fantasy, and grates against what should be the meat of the story. i can appreciate the light in the darkness, but here the contrast is too great. in fact, the story i felt the most empathy for was that of duty, the eicher's dog. he came to them after his old family had been swept away in a tornado, and then he lost his new family to a murderer while he remained in the home with a sitter. and i started thinking about how a dog could even process this; the sudden inexplicable vanishing of two entire sets of loved ones, who never saw the bodies of any of them, and what effect that sort of confusion must have had on him. yeah, i am most emotionally invested in the dog. i was emotionally invested in the family, in the first third, but once they were murdered, and the long process of investigation and trial and sentencing set in, they were only a glimmer, despite some fanciful ghostings. this may have worked better for me with more splicing of eicher family story with the emily story, but i don't know. i wanted to love it, but it was just too tidy-sweet for me, too "spunky girl reporter rights wrongs." but i would welcome you people reading it and telling me where i went wrong, because this time, i think it might just be me.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Lormac

    What a mess. I thought I was going to be reading a quasi true crime story about how Harry Powers met and murdered several women who were seeking husbands through lonely hearts correspondence embellished by some fictional characters who would get me deeper into the story. Instead, I got a ridiculous romance, and one of the worst books I have ever read. OK, here it goes - Emily Thornhill, a completely unbelievable character - orphaned, rich, educated, single, speaking French fluently due to her su What a mess. I thought I was going to be reading a quasi true crime story about how Harry Powers met and murdered several women who were seeking husbands through lonely hearts correspondence embellished by some fictional characters who would get me deeper into the story. Instead, I got a ridiculous romance, and one of the worst books I have ever read. OK, here it goes - Emily Thornhill, a completely unbelievable character - orphaned, rich, educated, single, speaking French fluently due to her summers "on the continent" with her wealthy farming grandparents who lived in Iowa (I guess farmers in Iowa do not need to spend the growing season on their farm), is assigned to cover the Powers case along with Eric Lindstrom, an orphaned, rich, educated, closeted gay photojournalist. They immediately develop a bond that will be lifelong. The first thing Emily does is visit Park Ridge, Illinois where several of the murder victims have lived, and meets the victims' banker - William Malone - rich, noble, educated, who speaks French fluently, and rides magnificent steeds through the local park. He's married, but his wife suffers from an Alzheimer-like illness so when William and Emily fall in love on first sight and immediately develop a bond that will be lifelong, the icky business of his having a wife is just evidence of William's nobility (he decides not to abandon his incapacitated wife). Instead they will just live together on the weekends in Chicago where he has business interests, and, after exchanging rings in the graveyard of the murder victims and speaking their vows from the heart in the presence of the murdered children, they will spend the summers in Paris posing as husband and wife (because he also has business interests in Paris, and they both speak French fluently). Along the way, Emily adopts the murder victims' dog with whom she immediately develops a bond that will be lifelong, and also adopts a street urchin - orphaned, poor, but with a sharp mind and noble character with whom she immediately develops a bond that will be lifelong, well, except for those summers she will spend in Paris with her "husband" during which months, the former urchin will be either attending boarding school (thanks to rich Uncle Eric Lindstrom) or learning French along with his "mother" and "father" in Paris. ARRRGGGHHH. As you can tell, I hated the plot. Emily careens between being feisty (concocting a plot whereby Powers will be confronted by the dog to see if the dog will "identify" him, although for what purpose this is done is not clear) and being weak and womanly (when confronted by the a grisly detail about the murder, Emily returns to her hotel room, waits for Eric to arrive and then pours an entire jug of water over her head - yes, you heard me - she is so upset she pours a pitcher of water over her head and then stands in the room shivering uncontrollably until Eric takes charge of the situation and has her change her clothes and puts her to bed). ARRRGGGHHH. As you can tell I hated the characterizations. And the dialogue! When William arrives to attend the murder trial, there is this exchange between Emily and William: "Oh, my darling! I am so happy that you are here." "Yes, my darling Emily, I am here." "You must kiss me now, again and again and again." "Yes, my darling Emily, I will." ARRGGGHHH. And then there is the priceless scene where, in the middle of blinding blizzard, Emily and William sit in a gazebo by the ice skating rink in the park where the murder trial is being held, and Emily takes his hands and he sees that she has left her underpants off and inserted her pessary (!!) and she proceeds straddle him and to have sex with him in the public gazebo in the snowstorm, after which Emily rushes off because she has to meet with the sheriff (with whom she had immediately developed a deep bond and who is described as having a "powerful torso" and possessing "animal virility") and get important inside information regarding the trial, and check on the urchin and the dog, who she left in her hotel room. ARRGGGHHH! OK, I think you see how much I hated this book. The most frustrating issue is that after sticking with this book through 14 disks (one complete disk devoted to Emily accompanying the bodies of the murder victims to Park Ridge), I still do not know how the murder victims died, or what was on the murderer's mind as he lured these women and their families to their deaths. That was what I thought the book was supposed to be about, and instead, I got a lot of clap-trap.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    As we all know, reading is a matter of taste, and two big elements here are not to my taste. First, the love story is too romance-y, even though I understand its purpose, reminding me of how I felt about Orringer's The Invisible Bridge (the one flaw for me in that work of historical fiction was the romance). Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, a principal of each love story is based on, or is a homage to, a relative of the writer. Second, the main theme (of good arising from tragedy) As we all know, reading is a matter of taste, and two big elements here are not to my taste. First, the love story is too romance-y, even though I understand its purpose, reminding me of how I felt about Orringer's The Invisible Bridge (the one flaw for me in that work of historical fiction was the romance). Interestingly, and perhaps not coincidentally, a principal of each love story is based on, or is a homage to, a relative of the writer. Second, the main theme (of good arising from tragedy) was stated too obviously and often for my taste. Unlike the several other works I've read by Phillips, the writing didn't pull me in for the most part, though I found the sections of 'magical realism' (for lack of a better term) the best written. I didn't care, though, for the ability of the main character, Emily, to 'sense' things out of the blue, though the reader suspects this intuition comes from one of the murdered children. I much prefer Phillips' Lark & Termite for the blending of fact and fiction, and a well-done 'fanciful' scene I still remember. Perhaps the characterization of Emily, a newspaper reporter, is my main issue. The dialogue she shares with her two closest friends seems by turns a bit anachronistic and then at times too hokey. In her depiction one of my pet peeves is employed: a beautiful woman being so attractive that every male thinks so, even when that's not pertinent to the story. I know she's the lone female doing her job among several powerful men, but every single one of them seems to be smitten with her in one way or another. Perhaps that's also the fault of Emily being a homage to the writer's mother. (I didn't know this until after I finished the book: it's stated in the acknowledgments.) Perhaps I expected too much based on what I've read of Phillips previously.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ladybug Lynn

    The first part of this book was wonderful as we came to know doomed Asta Eicher and her children. It is after the death of the family the book goes downhill. Invented character Emily Thornhill seems to suffer from Bella Swan-itis, everyman falls instantly in love with her (even the gay ones) and need to protect her. Emily's instant love with William was not believable at all and cheapened this story. If only Phillips had stuck to the real people in this case, the book would have been so much bet The first part of this book was wonderful as we came to know doomed Asta Eicher and her children. It is after the death of the family the book goes downhill. Invented character Emily Thornhill seems to suffer from Bella Swan-itis, everyman falls instantly in love with her (even the gay ones) and need to protect her. Emily's instant love with William was not believable at all and cheapened this story. If only Phillips had stuck to the real people in this case, the book would have been so much better & deeper. The real historical details are so tragic and fascinating that Phillips should not have needed to insert these 2D characters. A wasted opportunity as Phillips is a great writer.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Quiet Dell, West Virginia: one can hardly imagine a less appropriate name for a town where a serial killer murdered five women and children in 1931. Haunted by this real-life tragedy that took place near her hometown, Phillips makes much of the contrast between the name’s suggestion of a safe countryside idyll and the gritty reality of what happened there. Her latest novel is an intriguing blend of true crime and historical fiction: it starts off like Little Women and morphs into In Cold Blood w Quiet Dell, West Virginia: one can hardly imagine a less appropriate name for a town where a serial killer murdered five women and children in 1931. Haunted by this real-life tragedy that took place near her hometown, Phillips makes much of the contrast between the name’s suggestion of a safe countryside idyll and the gritty reality of what happened there. Her latest novel is an intriguing blend of true crime and historical fiction: it starts off like Little Women and morphs into In Cold Blood with a journalist heroine, hints of The Lovely Bones running through. Names are crucial to this book, and they’re often strangely prescient. The murderer, a Dutch immigrant who attracted his victims – mostly middle-aged widows with modest inheritances – through targeted lonelyhearts ads, was variously known as Cornelius O. Pierson or Harry F. Powers, but his real name was Harm Drenth. Journalists in town to cover his trial stayed at the Gore Hotel and met with Sheriff Grimm; Pierson’s lawyer had the surname Law, and the judge in the case was a Mr. Southern. You know what they say about truth being stranger than fiction: Phillips wouldn’t have gotten away with such symbolic naming if it wasn’t all historical. There were many cases of missing women, from the Midwest to the East Coast, that would never be definitively tied to Pierson the ladykiller, but Phillips focuses on the deaths of the Eicher family. A Danish-American from the Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois, Asta Eicher was a widow with three children, Grethe, Hart and Annabel. In the novel’s early scenes, readers are invited into the bosom of the family for Christmas 1930, with the children performing a holiday play. This section of domestic warmth reminded me oddly of Little Women. It is, of course, destined to be short-lived. In July of 1931, Asta Eicher accompanied Pierson to West Virginia to set up house with him there; she was already dead by the time Pierson came back to drive the three children to the Quiet Dell garage that would be the site of their torture and burial. Phillips could have recounted everything in a dull, matter-of-fact chronology, but instead she revivifies this doomed family through passages from each of the main players’ perspectives. We even get two pages from Pierson’s point-of-view; he seems not so much insane as driven by violent physical instinct: “His blood is singing. He’s entered that outer region in which it all begins; a penumbra around his head pulses like the charged gray emanation of a sunspot. He peers into a cloudiness in which flashes of brilliant red appear.” Annabel, the youngest of the Eicher children, is a charming, plucky character, and Phillips grants her an enduring and even posthumous presence (it would be oversimplifying to call her a ghost): “She finds herself in some new element, moving as a swimmer might tread water, and rises farther still…a night sky opens to receive her. She knows the constellations and begins to count the stars.” Thankfully, Phillips does not take readers into the garage with Pierson and his victims, but lets us, with Annabel, soar above it all. All the gruesome details will come to light in time for the trial, but for now we fly overhead. We land in Illinois later that summer, where the new protagonist (one of Phillips’s few inventions) is Emily Thornhill, a lady journalist for the Chicago Tribune who has chosen an unconventional life: a married lover who, Rochester-like, has an invalid wife locked away at home; and, later on, an orphaned West Virginia urchin, Mason, who becomes her ‘archivist’ and then her surrogate son. As Emily and her fellow journalist Eric Lindstrom, a closeted homosexual, tour the town and learn the case’s gory particulars, the book starts to channel Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood or Paul Collins’s The Murder of the Century, with black-and-white photographs and newspaper clippings reinforcing the book’s historicity. Emily is no sentimentalist, but still she is deeply affected by the Eichers’ fate, especially Annabel’s. She is captivated by some of the material artifacts the family left behind, such as Annabel’s doll and drawings and Hart’s ice skates. Seeing their effects displayed on the lawn for an estate sale troubles her greatly. “She did not believe in evil, but in mistakes and conditions, in cause and effect across arcs so long that history might seem reasonless, but never was.” Or, at least, that’s what she declares to start with, but when she meets Pierson in person and learns about more of his crimes (including the murder of Dorothy Lemke, the only one for which he was actually tried), she starts to wonder whether evil might exist after all. Negatives: 1) The narrative can drag between the crime and the trial. I wondered if Phillips might have interspersed passages from before and after, much as Anthony Doerr does in All the Light We Cannot See – it would be a way of maintaining interest and pace, also ensuring that the novel doesn’t reveal too much too early. 2) I thought Emily and William’s romance was melodramatic and unnecessary (also surprisingly erotic for 1931). For a serious book, there is still plenty of levity, much of it provided by Duty, the Eichers’ Boston terrier. (Now there’s another symbolic name for you.) Duty was ‘twice bereaved’: before the Eichers, his first family died in a tornado. “What a peculiar character, for he was certainly not a mere dog!” Indeed, he is a wonderful character in his own right, and even appears in a photograph on page 239. Also, the fact that the trial took place in an opera house gives plenty of opportunities for theatrical metaphors about the various ‘players’ in the case. I’d never read any Jayne Anne Phillips before, but I’ve heard her mentioned as an exemplar of dirty realism, and based on this evidence I would certainly read more from her. (Suggestions on what to read next from her are welcome.)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Britany

    What an interesting little book! Quiet Dell, WV is a small town where a series of murders took place in the '30s. I started listening to this book and became engaged in the Eicher family and their dynamic, all of a sudden, the story took a dark and dramatic turn, and that's when I found myself re-reading the back cover summary! A serial killer?! A true story?! How intriguing... Emily Thornhill, lead journalist, does her best to put the facts together and discover what happened to the family that What an interesting little book! Quiet Dell, WV is a small town where a series of murders took place in the '30s. I started listening to this book and became engaged in the Eicher family and their dynamic, all of a sudden, the story took a dark and dramatic turn, and that's when I found myself re-reading the back cover summary! A serial killer?! A true story?! How intriguing... Emily Thornhill, lead journalist, does her best to put the facts together and discover what happened to the family that disappeared. A cast of memorable characters- my favorite being Duty- the brave family dog. The book ran a little off topic at times and there were parts that I don't feel added to the storyline or integrity of this case. (view spoiler)[ The love story between Emily & William just felt out of place and unnecessary. (hide spoiler)] I did enjoy the pictures and actual quotes regarding the case. Very interesting take on a real life widow murderer.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrea Cox

    by Andrea Renee Cox I only made it to around page 116 before giving up on this one. Profanity, a couple of expletives, an explicit sex scene (I skipped a couple of paragraphs because it was going into too much detail for my taste), and marital affairs were distracting and unnecessary. Also, Annabel's perspective became quite abstract, which made it impossible for me to follow it. In the back-cover copy, it is stated that the Eicher family was killed, but that had not happened through the 116 page by Andrea Renee Cox I only made it to around page 116 before giving up on this one. Profanity, a couple of expletives, an explicit sex scene (I skipped a couple of paragraphs because it was going into too much detail for my taste), and marital affairs were distracting and unnecessary. Also, Annabel's perspective became quite abstract, which made it impossible for me to follow it. In the back-cover copy, it is stated that the Eicher family was killed, but that had not happened through the 116 pages I had read. Why put it in the premise if it doesn't happen within the first hundred pages? It now seems like the premise contained a huge spoiler because those deaths didn't happen early on. I thought this book was going to be more about the manhunt from pretty early on, so I was disappointed by that. I was not compensated for my honest review.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Chaitra

    What was Jayne Anne Phillips thinking? This could have been a wonderfully written portrait of a serial killer and the family he destroyed, and in the first few pages, it is. Enter Emily Thornhill from stage right, and the book loses all its built up poignancy in one single paragraph. Miss Phillips only wrote 4 imaginary characters - aforementioned Emily, a gay colleague who's sworn to her, an orphan straight out of Dickens who's also sworn to her (or pretty much) and a mother-in-law to the dead What was Jayne Anne Phillips thinking? This could have been a wonderfully written portrait of a serial killer and the family he destroyed, and in the first few pages, it is. Enter Emily Thornhill from stage right, and the book loses all its built up poignancy in one single paragraph. Miss Phillips only wrote 4 imaginary characters - aforementioned Emily, a gay colleague who's sworn to her, an orphan straight out of Dickens who's also sworn to her (or pretty much) and a mother-in-law to the dead Asta Eicher who says it's pretty cool to have a cheating husband. None of them ring true. They speak in purple prose, and around Emily they're as good as putty. Did I mention Emily is Mary Sue? She is. Every single male drools over her - even the gay one. Every single person tells her their deepest secrets. She's exceptionally pretty, and is so unrealistically good (she adopts a dog because it has no home and she adopts a thieving boy because he has no home either). Let's not even start on her "romance" with the bank president William Malone. I've seen better developed love stories within the bodice rippers I make a habit to utterly scorn. But the crime! The sensational trial! There's some of it - I'll admit that. But just when the story is veering towards the crime, Emily comes in with some random thing - she's overwrought/she's horny/she's feeling Annabel wafting through the story/she's feeling good and generous. So we take a break from even the trial that she doesn't feel like sitting through because the serial killer is (gasp!) lying, and follow her around. Why? I mean really - why write this book only to create an annoying Mary Sue when the existing, real material is so much more compelling? It was around 400 of torture, and none of it involved the serial killer. 2 stars only for a realistic portrayal of the Eicher family.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    3.5 Based on a true case that had haunted the author for decades, Quiet Dell is the story of the murders and investigation that took place during the 1930's, of a serial killer that preyed on vulnerable women. A subject that is not typical for this author, but something that she felt she needed to write. I remember stories, told by my Aunt about the Lonely Hearts, widows who would write to men, a match up pen pal sort of thing, that has been replaced by computers today. Widows left in dire circu 3.5 Based on a true case that had haunted the author for decades, Quiet Dell is the story of the murders and investigation that took place during the 1930's, of a serial killer that preyed on vulnerable women. A subject that is not typical for this author, but something that she felt she needed to write. I remember stories, told by my Aunt about the Lonely Hearts, widows who would write to men, a match up pen pal sort of thing, that has been replaced by computers today. Widows left in dire circumstances due to the depression and had very little recourse. Loved the black and white pictures that accompanied this novel as well as many of the details. My problem with this book, is that the main character is a woman, a journalist and so much of what she does and experiences just does not ring true. Not sure that a woman would have had the freedom at the time, or been so accepted by the men in professional capacities as is related here. Also her love affair with the bank manager just seemed awkward as did some of the dialogue. That said, this is still a very good novel, a look back in history and a book that will find readers of many genres. How much harder it was to piece things together back then when one so relied on witnesses, paper trails in the truest sense, and just pure investigation and foot work. Though this killer had many different aliases, he was just pure evil. My favorite parts where when the young girl Annabel is mentioned, the writing flows, becomes poetic and I felt she was a great favorite of the author. A bit of fancy.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    Whenever I hear about a novel set in West Virginia by a West Virginia author, my muse does the happy dance, and I want to party like it’s 1863 (for the uninitiated that would be the year of West, by God, Virginia’s statehood) where our slogan is Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers are always free). Even as I reminisced in Fairmont and Clarksburg, with Hagerstown and Uniontown not to be excluded and thoughts of toboggans (the hats, not the sleds) and thuses (instead of pep rallies) danced through Whenever I hear about a novel set in West Virginia by a West Virginia author, my muse does the happy dance, and I want to party like it’s 1863 (for the uninitiated that would be the year of West, by God, Virginia’s statehood) where our slogan is Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers are always free). Even as I reminisced in Fairmont and Clarksburg, with Hagerstown and Uniontown not to be excluded and thoughts of toboggans (the hats, not the sleds) and thuses (instead of pep rallies) danced through my dreams, I found myself staring at a cage filled with dead canaries and staring at a lethal dose of carbon monoxide. Despite QUIET DELL being set in 1931 and my tumultuous affair with historical fiction and my only connection to this particular time period being that my grand pappy approximated the size of a lightning bug, I set out to love, admire, and cherish this tale, only to slip on a patch of ice and crack my head open wider than a canyon. So what happened? The dialogue approached a haphazard nature, with a peppering of exclamation points and stilted turns of phrase, excess language banging off the page, and diatribes seeping through the exposed pores; the sexual encounters approximated an asexual nature, with additional encounters hinted at but not fully explored (probably the safer bet but somehow still managed to feel a tad awkward, like kissing cousins); the story proved both ambitious and a bit convoluted, with a hazy fog slapped across my eyes, and falling short of its promised destination. While the writing did show hints of promise, I found myself executing a mad rush to the end, somehow convinced that I had been conned all along, and that I will wake up in Chicago in an apartment with all the lights turned on. I received this book for free through NetGalley. Cross-posted at Robert's Reads

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alena

    This novel was slow to draw me in, but once it did (around 75 pages in), I was reminded of why I love her books so much. She crawls so deeply into her characters' souls that I started to feel I was walking in Emily's body. Of course I love that it's based on a real murder story and that it's Midwest and Chicago references feel so familiar to me. It's evocative of the 1931 setting without feeling like a period piece. I'm not sure I bought the plot completely. I couldn't accept that a single femal This novel was slow to draw me in, but once it did (around 75 pages in), I was reminded of why I love her books so much. She crawls so deeply into her characters' souls that I started to feel I was walking in Emily's body. Of course I love that it's based on a real murder story and that it's Midwest and Chicago references feel so familiar to me. It's evocative of the 1931 setting without feeling like a period piece. I'm not sure I bought the plot completely. I couldn't accept that a single female in journalist in that era would have so easily been granted access to such grisly settings, nor did I buy the torrid love affair, but those seem small details in an otherwise engrossing look at a serial murderer. I was reminded of In Cold Blood and The Lovely Bones, not bad company.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    I feel two ways about this novel - no actually, three ways. #1 I love Jayne Ann Phllips and even mediocre JAP is light years better than so much shit that's out there, so there's that. #2 Beautifully, lyrically written novel about a heinous real-life crime that took place In West Virginia and the intrepid young reporter from Chicago who makes it her life's mission to bring the perpetrator to justice. The first section of novel - which tells the story of the crime is heartbreaking. #3 The love sto I feel two ways about this novel - no actually, three ways. #1 I love Jayne Ann Phllips and even mediocre JAP is light years better than so much shit that's out there, so there's that. #2 Beautifully, lyrically written novel about a heinous real-life crime that took place In West Virginia and the intrepid young reporter from Chicago who makes it her life's mission to bring the perpetrator to justice. The first section of novel - which tells the story of the crime is heartbreaking. #3 The love story and the device of having one of the dead victims flit through the novel drove me crazy. This is clearly a story that has haunted Phillips for a long time and I am not sure why she chose to tell it this way with these characters. It's very old-fashioned in some ways, the dialogue is very formal, and the beauty and the pace of the novel, the way everything unfolds, is both gripping and kind of repellent at the same time.

  13. 4 out of 5

    MaryannC.Book Fiend

    I really have a lot of mixed opinions about this one. It was a bit mundane for me in the beginning, then when reporter Emily Thornhill comes into the picture and has this burgeoning love for Mr. Malone was when it became too far fetched along with the witty, gay co-reporter Eric. Plus goofy things like The Gore hotel , Mr. Grimm and a D.A. named Law, just made it too much. This could have been a gripping novel . I got to about halfway through this and put it in my "I give up pile."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lyn (Readinghearts)

    Quiet Dell is a novel based on a series of actual murders committed in the 1930s by a man calling himself Harry Powers. He does this by preying on widows who are writing to him via the Lonely Hearts Club, looking for someone to talk to and a bit of companionship. In the blurb at the beginning Jayne Anne Phillips states that in her youth she was driven by the scene of the murders and the impression that left has haunted her, eventually compelling her to write this novel. Not being familiar with t Quiet Dell is a novel based on a series of actual murders committed in the 1930s by a man calling himself Harry Powers. He does this by preying on widows who are writing to him via the Lonely Hearts Club, looking for someone to talk to and a bit of companionship. In the blurb at the beginning Jayne Anne Phillips states that in her youth she was driven by the scene of the murders and the impression that left has haunted her, eventually compelling her to write this novel. Not being familiar with the work of Jayne Anne Phillips, (this is the first novel by the author that I have read) I was not sure what to expect. The hook for me, then, was that the basis of this book was a real crime. Since reading In Cold Blood in high school, I have been fascinated by real crime stories, whether they be fictional representations or non-fiction accounts. In the case of Quiet Dell, the first few chapters definitely lived up to my expectations. This section of the book depicts the story of Ana Eicher, a widow with three children, who has no skills and no way to make a living now that her husband has died. The author describes the current life of Ana and her children with heart-breaking clarity and emotion. I was definitely immersed in their story quickly. In fact, I would give a 4 star rating to the beginning of the book, all the way to the part where the murders are discovered. At this point, the author introduces her first fictional characters, a female journalist by the name of Emily Thornhill and a photographer by the name of Eric Lindstrom, who are covering the story for the Chicago Tribune. This is where the books falls apart for me. It's not that Emily and Eric are not solid characters. I actually liked the way that the author used Emily's compulsion to find out the truth about Harry Powers as a catalyst to take the reader through the investigation of his life. It is Emily's romantic involvement with banker William O'Malley that I felt was not only unnecessary to the story, but actually a distraction from the investigation into the murders that should have made up the rest of the book. For me this error was compounded by two other items that author chose to include in the latter part of the book. These were the use of the youngest Eicher child, Anabelle, as a "supernatural" character (Think Susie in The Lovely Bones), and the inclusion of the "orphan" story. Neither of these devices did anything to enhance the basic story line, in my opinion. To sum it up, I copy a quote that I saw on Amazon which is purported to be from People Magazine. It says, "Think In Cold Blood meets The Lovely Bones, but sexier." To me, that sums it up pretty well. Unfortunately, I would have liked a bit more of the In Cold Blood part and a lot less of the The Lovely Bones and sexy parts. As I said above, I am not familiar with Jayne Anne Phillips other work, but I have heard that this is not her usual fare. For that reason, and the fact that parts of this book were very well written, I plan to try one of the author's other books in the future.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Cynthia

    Dead Narrator “Quiet Dell” is a knockout of a book. It’s a blend of imagined and real characters interweaving the story of a lonely hearts killer in the early 1930’s. Harry Powers (just one of his many aliases) reels in early middle aged women through pen pal dating clubs. He writes them letters that misrepresent him as a single, affluent gentleman who wants to find true love and settle down. In reality he’s a married psychopathic con man. Unfortunately one of his victims, Asta Eicher, believes h Dead Narrator “Quiet Dell” is a knockout of a book. It’s a blend of imagined and real characters interweaving the story of a lonely hearts killer in the early 1930’s. Harry Powers (just one of his many aliases) reels in early middle aged women through pen pal dating clubs. He writes them letters that misrepresent him as a single, affluent gentleman who wants to find true love and settle down. In reality he’s a married psychopathic con man. Unfortunately one of his victims, Asta Eicher, believes his lies and goes to visit him. He not only murders her but goes back Asta's house, grabs her three children and kills them as well. These are the real people. The main fictional character is a female journalist, Emily, her lover, and her side kick male photographer. Emily travels from Chicago to West Virginia to report on Powers's trial. It’s a deft weaving of fact and fiction. The story is chillingly told from her grave by the omniscient viewpoint of the youngest victim, nine year old Annabel. The settings around Chicago and West Virginia and an Iowa farm are excellently done evoking the perceived innocence of the 1930’s and the lives and outlooks of the people who inhabited them. Phillips questions our received assumptions of this era and its people. One of Phillips’s strong points is the atmosphere she creates. I wish I could convey this better but it's truly a world apart. The horror of the cold blooded murders and the touching loves scenes, between a man and a woman as well as between Emily and a young boy she rescues from the streets, are wonderfully portrayed. The book is necessarily fanciful as told alternately from Emily's outlook and by the murdered girl yet it works wonderfully. It makes the horror of the murders starker. True crime, a love story, farm and city life in the 1930’s all come alive. You can’t help caring for the fate of these characters. I couldn’t put the book down. This review is based on an e copy provided by the publisher. (Disclaimer added as required by the FTC.)

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alexandra

    *SPOILERS AHEAD* "Extraordinary" says the Observer. "Brilliant" says the Sunday Times. "Trainwreck" says Alex. I think it's useful to read terrible novels sometimes, though - they can teach you a lot about writing, and make you appreciate the good books all the more. So, how not to write a novel: -Don't make your characters fall in love at first sight. The Mary Sue journalist who's investigating a murder case and the banker who knew the murdered family meet in his office. "The fragrance, so subtle, *SPOILERS AHEAD* "Extraordinary" says the Observer. "Brilliant" says the Sunday Times. "Trainwreck" says Alex. I think it's useful to read terrible novels sometimes, though - they can teach you a lot about writing, and make you appreciate the good books all the more. So, how not to write a novel: -Don't make your characters fall in love at first sight. The Mary Sue journalist who's investigating a murder case and the banker who knew the murdered family meet in his office. "The fragrance, so subtle, was the smell of his skin. It was as though she'd stepped into some inchoate sympathy, charged and alive, between them". It's boring, predictable and implausible at the same time. -Don't describe your love-at-first-sight couple shagging pretty much straight away and at every possible opportunity just to prove how in love they are. Again, boring, and in the context of this novel, unbelievable. -Don't use a mad wife as a plot device to make a man more sympathetic (it doesn't work like that), and to justify his affair. It's okay that he has an affair because his wife is mad! The poor man obviously deserves an affair! The wife is only a plot device, not a character in her own right, so we don't need to care about her. -Don't invent a pickpocket orphan as a plot device just so the too-good-to-be-true heroine can teach him right from wrong and then adopt him. It's all so sentimental, no doubt Dickens would have approved. -Don't overuse the dog. I'm a dog lover and it's nice to have a dog in a book or a film, but unless it's Lassie you can't really use them as a character. Constantly describing where the dog is and what it's doing just isn't interesting. Phillips tries to justify it through the journalist's cunning plan to get the dog to bark at or attack the murderer, therefore proving the murderer's guilt. Genius. -Don't create a heroine who's loved by everyone and who has no apparent flaws. Emily Thornhill is the kind of character you would except from a teenager attempting to write a story for the first time, not an experienced, award-winning novelist. You know, she's brilliant at her job, all the men love her (but she's an independent lady in the 1930s who has casual affairs until the banker falls in love with her at first sight), even her gay best friend seems a bit in love with her, she adopts dogs and orphans, she speaks French. Yawn. -Don't write a murder novel with absolutely no element of mystery or intrigue. The first hundred pages describe the lives of characters we know are going to be murdered. The next few hundred pages follow the journalist plodding around following the murder case. From the beginning we know who the murderer is, and because it's based on a real life case (serial killer Harry Powers) we also know that the murderer is caught, found guilty, and hanged. We're offered no insight into Powers' character because the author finds the love life of her journalist more interesting. -Don't include gratuituous sex scenes. The one that sticks out is the soon-to-be murder victim - a real person, remember - being sodomised by her husband. The husband is a very minor character (he dies years before the events of the book take place). We know the wife is going to be murdered by Harry Powers soon. What relevance does this have to anything else in the story? -Don't invent two gay characters for the sake of making them live happily ever after together, even though we're given the impression that they hardly know each other. I think it's supposed to be part of Phillips' "love conquers all" philosophy. But firstly, love doesn't conquer all - two couples skipping off into the sunset doesn't compensate for the horror of the murders. And secondly, it's just too convenient that there are two gay characters (in the 1930s) who get together so easily and are living together by the end of the book. -Don't write a book with no suspense or narrative drive and make it last 440 pages. This book could have been half the length. Actually, ideally it would have ended on page 112, with the murders. That way I wouldn't have had to endure the tedious romance. To conclude, a terrible book. It was disappointing, because when I realised it was based on the same case as one of my favourite films (The Night of the Hunter) I was quite excited. I adore The Night of the Hunter, though I accept Quiet Dell is more realistic. The real Harry Powers was not a preacher and he bore no resemblance to Robert Mitchum...

  17. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    Quiet Dell begins with the story of a Chicago family lured to its destruction by a monstrous killer who preys on lonely women. The opening chapters, however, which deal with the hapless Eichers, are merely emotional foundation because the narrative quickly switches gears to follow the obsessive pursuit of the news story by Emily Thornhill, a Chicago reporter, who watches the killer brought to justice. I thought Quiet Dell an unusual novel. Unusual in that rather than telling the story with moder Quiet Dell begins with the story of a Chicago family lured to its destruction by a monstrous killer who preys on lonely women. The opening chapters, however, which deal with the hapless Eichers, are merely emotional foundation because the narrative quickly switches gears to follow the obsessive pursuit of the news story by Emily Thornhill, a Chicago reporter, who watches the killer brought to justice. I thought Quiet Dell an unusual novel. Unusual in that rather than telling the story with modernism's mythic components, for instance, or a style we might call postmodern, Jayne Anne Phillips has written a novel in the rhythms and sensibilities of the 1930s and with dialogue that sounds as if it was written for that era's silver screen. There are even setpiece episodes that seemed written for and lifted from the screen, like Christmas at the Eichers or the ragamuffin boy Emily rescues from the streets of Clarksburg, West Virginia, feeds, and puts to bed, Jackie Coogan-style, with the novel's devoted mascot, Duty the dog. It's melodramatic. It's romantic, and it ends in the easy, happy satisfactions of bad times turned into good. I'm a longtime fan of Phillips. I was willing to put down roots in the style she chose for her story though I felt out of place in it. Only a couple of things bothered me enough to mention here. First, the novel's set, like the real events it's based on, during the Great Depression. Yet Phillips didn't write the impact of those hard times into the consciousness of her characters. I only remember a passing reference to someone not trusting his bank. The other thing was a spiritual element. Phillips frequently includes a visionary or delphic character in her novels, one who has special insight. Quiet Dell has a murdered girl who watches over the novel's events from the afterlife. I never got into the rhythms and adopted attitudes of Quiet Dell. I couldn't not hear dialogue as stilted in the way of old movies. I wasn't able to let character mannerisms and sentiments appropriate to the period become second nature. I do recognize it's a novel about people 85 years ago. In some instances that distance could have been developed as a historical novel. Phillips didn't, but it's a novel that could easily carry a subtitle: A Novel of the 1930s.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bookread2day

    Quite Dell by Jayne Ane Philips is based on a true story of a crime that took place in Quiet Dell, West Virginia, over eighty years ago. The names of the characters whose lives the crime claimed or influenced are real, their thoughts, perceptions, and relationships are imagined. Their letters, the trali transcript, and various excerpted newspaper articles are quoted excatly from orginal documents. Minor day/ date discrepancies reflect discrepancies in the orginal coverage or documents. Jayne Ann Quite Dell by Jayne Ane Philips is based on a true story of a crime that took place in Quiet Dell, West Virginia, over eighty years ago. The names of the characters whose lives the crime claimed or influenced are real, their thoughts, perceptions, and relationships are imagined. Their letters, the trali transcript, and various excerpted newspaper articles are quoted excatly from orginal documents. Minor day/ date discrepancies reflect discrepancies in the orginal coverage or documents. Jayne Anne Phillips is the author of six novels and four limted edition books.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ron Charles

    The competition for crime of the century is steep, but for pure ghoulishness, Harry Powers is a cut above the rest. As America careened into the Great Depression, a Dutch immigrant in West Virginia began advertising for companionship in lonely hearts columns around the country. The fact that Powers had recently married didn’t slow him down. From the hundreds of women who wrote to him, he selected at least two to fleece and butcher. Among his victims was a single mother and her three children, who The competition for crime of the century is steep, but for pure ghoulishness, Harry Powers is a cut above the rest. As America careened into the Great Depression, a Dutch immigrant in West Virginia began advertising for companionship in lonely hearts columns around the country. The fact that Powers had recently married didn’t slow him down. From the hundreds of women who wrote to him, he selected at least two to fleece and butcher. Among his victims was a single mother and her three children, who perished in a torture chamber under his garage. Powers — dubbed “Bluebeard” by the breathless newspapers of the day — was tried in an opera house, which only emphasized the proceedings’ theatricality. He was convicted and hanged in 1932. Direct memories of that sensational trial have evaporated, but the Powers case inspired a critically acclaimed novel by Davis Grubb called “The Night of the Hunter” and a classic film version by Charles Laughton, starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters. Now, after thinking about this crime for decades, Jayne Anne Phillips offers her own treatment of the murders, which took place not far from her home town in West Virginia. While Grubb and the movie based on his book took considerable liberties with the details, Phillips notes that in her novel, the victims’ “letters, the trial transcript, and various excerpted newspaper articles are quoted exactly from original documents.” Chapters open with black and white photographs of the pudgy killer, his victims and their many curious onlookers. The characters’ names would seem like corny allegories if they weren’t, in fact, true: Sheriff Grimm, Defense Attorney Law, Judge Southern and, not least, a murderer whose real name was Harm. But despite its reliance on historical detail, “Quiet Dell” is a thoroughly re-imagined story. As in her previous novel, “Lark and Termite,” which dramatized the No Gun Ri massacre during the Korean War, Phillips has invented thoughts and dialogue for historical figures, built the story around several fictional characters and introduced a mystical element that will enchant some readers and annoy others. To begin with, Phillips subsumes the inherent thriller elements of this multiple-murder case to her own emotional design. The novel’s first quarter is an atmospheric domestic drama: 45-year-old Anna Eicher and her three young children of Park Ridge, Ill., are teetering on the precipice of poverty in 1930. Anna’s husband, a silversmith, was killed several years before by a streetcar. “The Eichers were a charmed and beautiful village on which dark stars fell,” the narrator writes. “Misfortune was common, of course, but the family persevered with such well-bred patience, and made of pretense a brave and moral art.” Phillips knows how to choreograph the incongruent desires and tones that sweep through a home, even an apparently happy one. This engrossing first section moves fluidly back and forth in time, filling in nasty details about Anna’s marriage to her sexually aggressive husband (who may have met that streetcar on purpose). Anna’s mother-in-law is a sweet old lady who counsels the benefits of adultery. Anna’s youngest daughter is a precocious artist with a prescient attraction to the afterlife. Anna’s best friend is gay, and willing to rescue the family by marrying her. “A man was not one thing,” he thinks as he contemplates what his proposal will cost him, and it’s a good reminder that a novel is not one thing, either. Into this complicated household slithers Powers, Anna’s secret pen pal. He “seems a gentleman,” she thinks, “and takes such time and care. An ardent and faithful correspondent, he writes two letters for every one of hers.” But theirs is a deadly confluence of deceptions: Despite her apparent prosperity, Anna actually has no money. And despite his professions of affection, Powers is planning a gruesome consummation. You might assume that knowing the fate of Anna and her family would sap the suspense, but Phillips portrays these children so intimately that their impending demise is all the more terrifying. And the novel includes gorgeous shifts into surrealism that suggest the youngest daughter’s spiritual visions — a risky stylistic touch that occurs infrequently enough to feel surprising and disorienting each time it occurs. Phillips also attends to the social and economic exigencies that would encourage a single mother to suspend her skepticism for the promise of a good husband. The comparison to today’s risky online dating market is obvious, but what’s more interesting is the way the press used the Powers murders as an opportunity to shame middle-aged women for pursuing matrimonial happiness. “Woe to the buxom woman over forty who imagined sincere interest in her exhausted charms,” Phillips writes. Better to sit patiently at home waiting for a natural death than to risk courting it out in the world. Unfortunately, the second, much longer section of “Quiet Dell” is nowhere near as successful. Built around the investigation and trial, it focuses on a fictional character named Emily Thornhill, a plucky reporter for the Chicago Tribune. While showing us how Emily becomes emotionally invested in the story of the dead Eichers, Phillips conveys the special challenges and advantages of a “working girl” charged with providing “the woman’s angle on hard news.” The novel captures the sepia tone of the times, with its genteel public manners and its too-close relationship between press and police, but a clammy sense of melodrama spoils the very real emotions of this tragedy. Just as she begins reporting on the murders, Emily and the president of Anna Eicher’s local bank spark up a romance quicker than you could get change for a dollar. And even if you can buy their passion, there’s no way to resist snickering at their hyperventilating dialogue: “I will never compromise your reputation,” he tells the young reporter, “but I must have you, and know I can have you. . . . I think of you in every breath.” All I ever got from my bank was a pocket calendar. This problem is even more pronounced when it comes to Emily’s partner from the Chicago Tribune, a homosexual photographer who seems debonair except when he sounds like a character from “Game of Thrones”: “I will protect you, always, just as you protect me,” he tells her. “As counsel or help, no matter the need, I am sworn to you.” That he and Emily speak of his sexual orientation with thoroughly post-Stonewall enlightenment only adds to the weird anachronisms of their relationship. (It doesn’t help that Emily’s gay photographer and Anna’s gay suitor eventually pair up for a “Glee”-worthy finale.) And the adorable pick-pocket who scurries in from a Charles Dickens novel to win Emily’s heart — well, I’m a little verklempt. The publisher wants to position “Quiet Dell” as a successor to Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood,” but it never generates such heat. Maybe it’s too burdened by the procedural details of the trial. Or maybe this irreducibly strange novel doesn’t know what it wants to be: a work of true crime, a romance, a period melodrama, a ghost story? Phillips has successfully married disparate styles before, but here the historical record looks pressed into a costume that doesn’t fit.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jenn

    This story surprised me. I didn’t have high expectations of this half true crime/ half fiction story. But it was surprisingly good. Well written, intriguing, and quick paced. The murder of a family in the 30s follows the family, their close acquaintances, the newspaper journalist, the murderer and even the left living dog. With a wee bit of romance and unmentionable relationships (for the 30s) thrown in for good measure.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Doreen

    This work of fiction is based on a real crime involving a con man preying on women. In Chicago in 1931, Asta Eicher, an impoverished widow and mother of three, starts a correspondence with Cornelius Pierson who promises her a happy new life. Just after they first meet in person, Asta and her children disappear. Emily Thornhill, a journalist, becomes involved when their bodies are discovered. With the help of Eric Lindstrom, a photographer, and William Malone, the Eicher family banker, Emily not This work of fiction is based on a real crime involving a con man preying on women. In Chicago in 1931, Asta Eicher, an impoverished widow and mother of three, starts a correspondence with Cornelius Pierson who promises her a happy new life. Just after they first meet in person, Asta and her children disappear. Emily Thornhill, a journalist, becomes involved when their bodies are discovered. With the help of Eric Lindstrom, a photographer, and William Malone, the Eicher family banker, Emily not only covers the murder trial but investigates the case as well. The first part of the book, until the family’s disappearance, is very interesting. Each of the Eichers is developed so that they emerge as individuals with distinct personalities. Of course, getting to know the victims adds to the sympathy felt for them. A problem, however, is that “this beautiful family” comes across as too good to be true: though visited by misfortune, they persevere “with such well-bred patience.” Asta is the most understanding of mothers, and the children are almost unfailingly obedient. The introduction of Emily Thornhill further weakens the novel. Her unfailing goodness is cloying and unbelievable. She adopts a dog who has lost his human family and a street urchin who robs her. Everyone loves her; not only does she fall in love at first sight with a man who instantly returns that love, but everyone confides in her. On almost first meeting, a colleague entrusts her with the secret of his homosexuality, and a sheriff investigating the case regularly gives her unprecedented access to people involved in the case and calls her to keep her updated. With the assistance of a ghost, she is even able to provide a clue to the case! The style is repetitive. For instance, the adjective “fine” is used to describe everything: a designer of silver, a tenor, schools, parties, hotels, a gold locket, meals, shoes, children, etc. The author also has an excessive fondness for using “for” as a conjunction. The dialogue sounds unnatural. A man tells his lover, “’My disappointment does not live in any world you inhabit.’” A homosexual colleague tells Emily, “’And I will protect you, always, just as you protect me. . . . [M]y feelings for you run far deeper than appearances. As counsel or help, no matter the need, I am sworn to you.’” The book explores passion in its many guises: “Passion is a capability with which one is born, or not. Passion can destroy, yes, but it seeks and must have. That is its nature.” An Eicher family friend, a homosexual, struggles with his urges: “he’d torn himself on one shoal after another these last years, and righted the wreckage . . . None of it would follow him, but he could not combat his tendencies alone.” There is certainly passion between Emily and William, despite the latter’s marital complications. Passion plays a role in the death of Asta’s husband, in Cornelius’s behaviour, and even in the imaginativeness of nine-year-old Annabel Eicher. There is no doubt that the author did extensive research. Unfortunately, the stilted dialogue, repetitive diction, and unconvincing characterization detract from the quality of that research. Note: I received an ARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley. Please check out my reader's blog (http://schatjesshelves.blogspot.ca/) and follow me on Twitter (@DCYakabuski).

  22. 5 out of 5

    Candace

    The first part of Jayne Ann Phillips’ novel sets a scene of a family at Christmas; a pageant by the youngest daughter, a family friend at dinner, a toboggan as a gift and an exciting ride down a snowy hill. After this sweet set up, do not go searching online for more information about the Quiet Dell murders, because it will disturb your sleep. Asta Eicher and her three children would vanish shortly later, and their killer was only discovered when her bank manager insisted that police enter the ho The first part of Jayne Ann Phillips’ novel sets a scene of a family at Christmas; a pageant by the youngest daughter, a family friend at dinner, a toboggan as a gift and an exciting ride down a snowy hill. After this sweet set up, do not go searching online for more information about the Quiet Dell murders, because it will disturb your sleep. Asta Eicher and her three children would vanish shortly later, and their killer was only discovered when her bank manager insisted that police enter the house, where they found letters from a man calling himself Harry Powers with a return address in West Virginia. Phillips uses the bank manager, William O’Malley, as the driving force behind the story—he brings in a Chicago Tribune reporter to bring the story to light. Emily Thornhill and her photographer follow the Eichers’ trail from their home in a Chicago suburb to a soundproofed basement Quiet Dell. Phillips’ mix of real and imagined is not a seamless blend. Emily’s story veers toward the sentimental. She takes the Eicher son’s bull terrier along with her, often carrying him in a basket into places where he might not be allowed even though that must be like hauling around an anvil since those dogs can weigh sixty pounds. She develops a connection to the youngest girl, Annabel, whose spirit flutters around the events. Since Phillips uses the real names of most of the characters she doesn’t share who is real and who is imaginary until the end. And then you will say, “oh, of course.” The formal structure and tone give the story that “ripped from the headlines” feel, when those headlines were from 1931. Comparisons are being made to “In Cold Blood” but I do not see them. The Eicher and Clutter families are very different, as are the manners of their deaths. I thought more about the new biography of Charles Manson because, like Manson, Harry Powers’ family always knew something was terribly wrong with him. Powers’ unfortunate real name was Harm Drenth. The son of Dutch farmers in Iowa, they, too, knew there was something amiss with him and were glad to think him dead. “Quiet Dell” is a discomforting experience, but all I could do was think about when I could get back it. I’ll slice off a star for some of the obvious sentimentality, but then again I was glad of those moments. Otherwise the heart break of the Eichers’ story would have been too hard to take. Thanks to Scribner for download on NetGalley.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jeannine

    The problem with this kind of hybrid fiction/non-fiction book (and this one is based on a real crime from the 1930s) is that the reader spends the entire time wondering if this or that thing is real or fake. The author says up front what is fictional and what isn't but that helps only minimally here. The actual facts and circumstances of the murder of a woman and her three children are the most interesting part of this book and, thus, except for the eventual trial, most of the mystery is solved The problem with this kind of hybrid fiction/non-fiction book (and this one is based on a real crime from the 1930s) is that the reader spends the entire time wondering if this or that thing is real or fake. The author says up front what is fictional and what isn't but that helps only minimally here. The actual facts and circumstances of the murder of a woman and her three children are the most interesting part of this book and, thus, except for the eventual trial, most of the mystery is solved before the book is halfway finished. Once the fictional Emily - a reporter - is introduced, the book slogged down as she "investigates" what we already know. The details - checking into and out of this hotel and that, just scramble the brain - who cares? Further, Emily is not an interesting character - she falls instantly in love with a (real?) banker who is close to the family in question. This was so outlandishly silly that I laughed out loud. Emily is a charmed character - getting special access to crime scenes and evidence, making friends instantly with everyone she meets - and I found her entirely uninteresting. I stopped reading shortly after she was introduced, and only flipped pages to see if anything earth shattering happened at the conclusion (it doesn't appear to). The story also includes the ghost adventures of one of the children as well as an entirely imagined life for the mother. This imagined story is so ugly that it does a disservice to the real mother (and her real husband) where people who don't understand what is made up and what isn't will believe it as Truth and what a disservice this does to these real people who suffered so much, 80 years ago. I imagine the author wanted to honor these people and does the complete opposite in about two or three pages. I don't understand why the author couldn't have made this a non-fiction work - clearly she did a lot of research and had an interest in the people and it would've been much more interesting to read that story - the facts and the author's interest in it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Allyson Langston

    Disclaimer: this book "had" me before the first paragraph of the first chapter with it's setting--Park Ridge, Illinois. That's my hometown. My darling, adorable hometown. Suburban Chicago, early curfew, "action ridge," hometown. So I was engaged before the first word, for a big part of this novel involved a family from my hometown that I had never heard of prior to this read. The Eicher family grew up in Park Ridge and disappeared a little more than 40 years before I was born. Their home still s Disclaimer: this book "had" me before the first paragraph of the first chapter with it's setting--Park Ridge, Illinois. That's my hometown. My darling, adorable hometown. Suburban Chicago, early curfew, "action ridge," hometown. So I was engaged before the first word, for a big part of this novel involved a family from my hometown that I had never heard of prior to this read. The Eicher family grew up in Park Ridge and disappeared a little more than 40 years before I was born. Their home still stand today (312 Cedar Street) and I will, of course, have to drive by and look at it next time I'm home. So enough about the one of the main settings in the novel. This is a grisly story about a serial killer who was finally discovered in the early 1930s, thanks to the Eicher family. The author does a good job with character development--you can easily visualize Anta, Gerthe, Hart, and sweet Annabelle, and their state. The author also does a good job reassuring the reader that the Eichers are indeed in a better place, giving us glimpses into Annabelle's heavenly experience. The author also seemlessly laces in newspaper clippings, testimony from court, and photographs and details about the lives people lead back then. Her four fictional characters are believable to a point, and you certainly cheer for them to have some sense of peace after reporting on this horror. In my opinion, the "romance scenes" were not necessary and did little or nothing to add to the plotline. One of her underlying themes about homosexuality in the 30's was also probably more for today's audience--and equally unnecessary. I am sad to learn the story of the Eichers as well as the countless "fat and 40 lonely hearts" that Cornelius Piersen, aka Herman Powers, preyed upon for his sick pleasure. I am grateful he was hanged within 30 days of his trial so the horrors he committed could end once and for all.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Marion Husband

    Odd, but I agree with both the 5* reviews and the 1* reviews here on goodreads....I thought it started very well, but then....well, as one reviewer wrote it certainly jumped the shark, and as another wrote, brilliantly I thought, the dialogue would choke a hog....there was something rather unnatural about the dialogue, too formal and stilted - never I'm always I am. I wanted to read far, far more about the murderer's background and far far less about the too good to be true female journalist (on Odd, but I agree with both the 5* reviews and the 1* reviews here on goodreads....I thought it started very well, but then....well, as one reviewer wrote it certainly jumped the shark, and as another wrote, brilliantly I thought, the dialogue would choke a hog....there was something rather unnatural about the dialogue, too formal and stilted - never I'm always I am. I wanted to read far, far more about the murderer's background and far far less about the too good to be true female journalist (one of the few invented characters). Also, I wondered about giving the real characters such horrible back stories, especially the woman we follow through the first few pages, which I think lends insult to injury. This seems to me to be good writing of a not wholly readable kind, I did skip quite a few pages and skimmed read more when it came to the sections about the journalist...I can't remember her name, I am putting this novel behind me....

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ericafoferica

    I seriously gave up on this book. Don't judge me, I did at least make it to page 249 out of 438. So that's a little more than half. But seriously, the storyline could have turned out fabulous. Instead, you end up reading a really boring book that includes a love affair with a reporter and bank president, which by the way was completely unbelievable. I mean, that whole affair puts the phrase "love at first sight" to shame. I wish I could have given this book more of a chance, but when I'm having t I seriously gave up on this book. Don't judge me, I did at least make it to page 249 out of 438. So that's a little more than half. But seriously, the storyline could have turned out fabulous. Instead, you end up reading a really boring book that includes a love affair with a reporter and bank president, which by the way was completely unbelievable. I mean, that whole affair puts the phrase "love at first sight" to shame. I wish I could have given this book more of a chance, but when I'm having to renew with the library over two times already, it was just best to walk away. So yes, I gave up. My advice to you dear fellow reader is simply this: don't touch it, pick it up, or even read the first few pages. Do yourself a favor and select another book to loose yourself in. This one is totally not worth it.

  27. 5 out of 5

    gaudeo

    This is a historical novel, based on a crime that took place in 1931 in Quiet Dell, West Virginia. Phillips is careful to get all the facts right, but she weaves two additional, seamless stories throughout. In the first section, the reader gets to know intimately the family that subsequently disappears and is murdered. The rest of the book follows key figures in the investigation, the media coverage, and the public eye through the killer's trial. Thankfully, despite its grim central topic, the b This is a historical novel, based on a crime that took place in 1931 in Quiet Dell, West Virginia. Phillips is careful to get all the facts right, but she weaves two additional, seamless stories throughout. In the first section, the reader gets to know intimately the family that subsequently disappears and is murdered. The rest of the book follows key figures in the investigation, the media coverage, and the public eye through the killer's trial. Thankfully, despite its grim central topic, the book is redemptive and hopeful as well. Highly recommended.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Awful. All over the place. Can't decide whether it's a bodice ripper, a ghost story or true crime. The dialogue would choke a hog.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Janelle Rich

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I began this book a few months ago, but didn’t find it interesting enough at the time to continue. I picked it up again a few weeks ago, and found myself much more interested in it. The author’s prose at first seems old fashioned and rather fussy, but then the story is from an actual event that happened almost 100 years ago, so it made sense as I read further. I was drawn into the horrible experience of the Eicher Family and the way the author imagined the characters to be. It got better and bet I began this book a few months ago, but didn’t find it interesting enough at the time to continue. I picked it up again a few weeks ago, and found myself much more interested in it. The author’s prose at first seems old fashioned and rather fussy, but then the story is from an actual event that happened almost 100 years ago, so it made sense as I read further. I was drawn into the horrible experience of the Eicher Family and the way the author imagined the characters to be. It got better and better as I went along. The main character, Emily, is someone to admire and root for. The portions featuring Annabel Eicher’s ‘spirit’ I read several times because of the wonderful descriptors used. I felt very satisfied at the end. I’m surprised at the overall rating the book was given by others.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Joy (joyous reads)

    I’m kicking myself for taking almost a year to get to this ARC. Had I know what I was missing, I wouldn’t have waited to so long to read it. But. Despite how engrossing this book was, I still had some misgivings, which I’ll attempt to explore more on my review. The year was 1931. Asta Eicher, a widow with three children, was almost at the end of her ropes. Lonely and broke, she began corresponding with a charismatic stranger through letters. Harry Powers promised to take charge of the family’s sl I’m kicking myself for taking almost a year to get to this ARC. Had I know what I was missing, I wouldn’t have waited to so long to read it. But. Despite how engrossing this book was, I still had some misgivings, which I’ll attempt to explore more on my review. The year was 1931. Asta Eicher, a widow with three children, was almost at the end of her ropes. Lonely and broke, she began corresponding with a charismatic stranger through letters. Harry Powers promised to take charge of the family’s slow descent to poverty; and for a time, Asta felt like her life, and the children’s were about to change. A few months later however, they turned up dead. So began the investigation to a killing spree by a man who targeted lonely widows, desperate enough to believe that Harry Powers was their knight in shining armour. The most tragic of all was Asta Eicher’s family. She had two girls and a boy. The oldest, Grethe, was a girl of fourteen. She had a mental disability brought on by a fever during her childhood. She was simple-minded. The second child was Hart. A boy who was both innocent and an old soul. When their father was killed, he’d had to be Grethe’s minder. The youngest, who was admittedly, the driving force of this novel was Annabel. A precocious child who saw through this world and the after life. There is nothing paranormal about this book; it is mostly mystical. It was a way of telling the Eicher’s story through Annabel’s post-mortem eyes. The thing is, by giving this entire family substance and life, the readers will have no choice but suffer through their sufferings. They weren’t merely an addendum or statistics but actual people. Another thing that broke my heart was that the family had another hope in the person of a family friend. He could’ve easily provided for them. He was rich and unattached. The last Christmas he spent with the family, he had every intention of proposing to Asta. And he did. But he was already too late. In the summer of the following year, their bodies were exhumed from Harry’s farm in Quiet Dell. This book had me at hello. Between the novelty of the year that was, the romance between the reporter (Emily) and the banker (William), and the relationships between the victims and Harry Powers (aka, Cornelius Pierson), I couldn’t look away. The mystery also unfolded in a slow, deliberate manner; meant to grab the readers until we’re practically panting to see it to the end. My problem with this novel revolves around one of the things that I’ve loved about this book: the romance between Emily and William. William, who’s married to an invalid. Their romance happened in the blink of an eye; there was no progression. They met and before the day ended, they were kissing. And I don’t know, perhaps it had to do with the era, but a woman whose husband was involved in an affair with somebody else is apparently acceptable then. Women were expected to turn a blind eye. Accept it even. I am used to the instant-love romances in YA, but when I’m reading an adult novel, there is almost an understanding that such a thing doesn’t happen. I almost thought that they had a history that I could’ve sworn I’d missed. But, to no avail. I also had a problem with Emily being the apple of everyone’s eyes. She’s portrayed as Helen of Troy. Or someone whose beauty attracts them like a moth to a flame. Aside from William, there was her homosexual (or bi-sexual) colleague, and the sheriff, who’d given her the ins while the case was being investigated and tried. Everyone just fell madly in love with her! Over all, Quiet Dell was a satisfying novel that had its positives and negatives. It’s a shame that something as inconsequential as a romance clouded over the entire experience.

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