Title: Quiet Dell
Author: Jayne Anne Phillips. She is the author of several novels, including Lark & Termite.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller
Readers: At-home parents Megan V., Sarah L. and Krysta.
Summary: 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.
Our Take: This historical novel based on a true crime has strong writing but isn’t too fast-paced.
I admit to putting off reading this book for a few days after receiving it, because I was worried at what detail Jayne Ann Phillips would describe the heinous real life murders of a mother and her three young children, that are central to Quiet Dell. Once I began reading, I found it difficult to put down. I thought Phillips did an excellent job of drawing the reader in. She gives an intimate insight to the lives of the family that was affected by the serial murderer Harry Powers. While others may have found this approach slowing to the flow of the novel, I appreciated the detail, and found myself caring more about the characters and feeling wrapped up in the story. I thought Phillips intertwined the fictional and non-fictional characters quite well. There were a couple sex scenes that were more on the graphic side, that I felt added little to nothing to the storyline, and could gladly have done without. I did not find her detail of the crimes to be too gruesome, however. I was expecting something more along the lines of Devil In The White City, in terms of macabre detail. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys true crime literature.
I usually find true crime novels really interesting. I wish I could say that had been the case with Quiet Dell. The first half of the book was slow-moving. I expected it to become more fast-paced as we began to follow Emily Thornhill’s portion of the story as she covers the arrest and trial of Harry F. Powers. However, once the Eichers’ deaths occurred and Powers was arrested, it became a chore to wade through the remainder of the book just to get to the verdict, which is finally revealed 25 pages from the end of the book.
The characters that were most enjoyable to read about were the characters wholly created by the author, rather than those based on actual people. On the positive side, Phillips’ prose is lovely, and she has shown that she can create compelling characters. I may try some of her other works, but this book earned a grade of C.
I ended up having a difficult time getting through this book, at least the first half. Quiet Dell is based on true events, but the author added a handful of (4, exactly) fictional characters to the storyline. The fictional characters make it more interesting, as way too much (in my opinion) of the book was used to explain or describe the background of the family. A sensitive reader may not be able to tolerate some sections of this book, as there are multiple crime scene descriptions involving children. I admit to skimming through a couple paragraphs for this reason.
The second half of the book moves a little faster, maybe even around page 300, if I remember correctly. I think the author is genuinely fascinated by the family and the murders, so I understand why there is so much background and setup throughout much of the book. This wasn’t what I was expecting, so maybe this isn’t the book for me or a like-minded reader. Her writing, however, is well-done, and I don’t have complaints about that. If a fast-moving story is what you like, you may end up skimming through much of this one.