Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips
|Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips|
|Category: Crime (Historical)|
|Reviewer: Luke Marlowe|
|Summary: Chilling and compelling, Quiet Dell is more than a murder mystery, but also a well written study about humanity, love, and 1930s America.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 464||Date: April 2015|
|External links: Author's website|
Chicago – 1931. Asta Eicher is a widow, with three children and a crippling sense of loneliness. When Harry Powers asks her to marry him, she is delighted – and the new family soon leave in order to travel to West Virginia. They are never seen again. Back in Chicago, Emily Thornhill is one of the few women journalists in Chicago, and is sent to investigate the disappearance, trying to establish what happened to the family. As she becomes ever deeper involved with the investigation, Emily begins to discover things she never expected – both about the case, and herself.
As a rule, I tend to struggle with true crime books. If written well, I tend to get rather attached to characters in books – so to read one in which they will be inevitably and horribly murdered at the end, is not something I often choose to do. Quiet Dell is something different though – and the focus here is not solely concentrated on the missing family, but on journalist Emily and her investigations – although the deceased Annabel offers a ghostly view on proceedings as the book goes on, and the opportunities to become attached to the family are certainly there at the beginning. The true story described here is absolutely horrific, and whilst author Jayne Anne Phillips chooses not to dwell on the moments of violence too much, the glimpses we have of them are stomach churning – and may make most pretty uncomfortable. The sense of foreboding is unavoidable for all who read the blurb.
The move to spend the first third of the book letting the reader get to know the Eichers, is certainly a good one – they are a likeable, everyday family, and despite knowing that they are fated to die, I found it impossible not to get attached to them. Mercifully for me, the focus then switches to the investigations of Emily Thornhill – and a general change in tone ensues. I’ll admit that I found some of the side plots concerning Emily a little distracting – whilst a love story certainly helped to distract from the general grimness of the book, it did sometimes feel rather out of place – even verging on the saccharine on occasion. As I became more involved with both the investigation and the court case, my interest in Emily’s private life dimmed. Where the author really excels is in providing a strong sense of time and place, both of dusty prohibition era Chicago, and the quiet rural areas that are visited, as well as the social and political issues that affected someone like Emily in her work, and influenced Asta as a young widow. All is beautifully written about and easy to picture – and the characters also benefit from the excellent prose, with Annabel, Asta, Charles and Emily providing varying and interesting viewpoints throughout the book, and Emily a fantastically strong female character.
Fact and fiction are interwoven with some skill – and whilst the facts of the case are stuck to throughout, the authors writing skill is such that completely fictional characters such as Emily become as alive as the Eichers (perhaps an unfortunate turn of phrase given the events of the book…)
An excellent read, I would recommend Quiet Dell for those who enjoy both true crime and historical fiction. Many thanks to the publishers for the copy.
For further reading, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale is a good bet – another intriguing blend of True crime and historical fiction that also explores the social, cultural and political air of the time.
You can read more book reviews or buy Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips at Amazon.com.
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