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A spectacularly riveting novel based on a real life crime by a con man who preyed on widows: “a brilliant fusion of fact and fiction, Jayne Anne Phillips has written the novel of the year” (Stephen King)—“think In Cold Blood meets The Lovely Bones—but sexy” (People).
In Chicago in 1931, Asta Eicher, a lonely mother of three, is desperate 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, Asta and her three children are dead.
Emily Thornhill, one of the few women journalists in the Chicago press, wants to understand what happened to this beautiful family, particularly to the youngest child, Annabel, an enchanting girl with a precocious imagination and sense of magic. Determined, Emily travels to West Virginia to cover the murder trial and to investigate the story herself, accompanied by a charming and unconventional photographer equally drawn to the case. These heroic characters, driven by secrets of their own, will stop at nothing to ensure Powers is convicted.
A tragedy, a love story, and a tour de force of obsession, Jayne Anne Phillips’s Quiet Dell “hauntingly imagines the victims’ hopes, dreams, and terror” (O, The Oprah Magazine). It is a mesmerizing and deeply moving novel from one of America’s most celebrated writers.
At the core of this sprawling new novel from the author of Lark and Termite is a series of real-life murders committed in 1931. A man calling himself Cornelius O. Pierson woos Asta Eicher, mother of three and recently widowed, in polished letters promising fidelity and financial security. After Asta disappears with Pierson, aka Harry Powers, the killer returns to Asta's home in Chicago to kidnap and brutally murder her three beautiful children. In Phillips's retelling, Emily Thornhill, a lovely staff writer for the Chicago Tribune, covers the case with her photographer colleague, Eric Lindstrom, and the Eicher family dog, Duty. She falls in love with the Eicher family banker, William Malone, who bankrolls much of the investigation, but she also becomes enthralled with the memory of the three dead children: simple Grethe; her brave brother, Hart; and their precocious little sister, Annabel. Phillips's plot is engaging, romantic, and fecund; her characters are beautiful, accomplished, and good except for the bad guy, who is very bad indeed. The book veers dangerously close to melodrama, and the story drags when trying to stick too closely to the truth, but Phillips is a reader's writer. For every tedious page of the murder trial, mired in the story-lethal muck of facts, there is one of soaring lyricism. The best bits are Phillips's recreation of her characters' dreams, and especially the ethereal afterlife of the enchanting young Annabel, who is only nine when she is killed in a muddy field in Quiet Dell, W.Va.