Quiet Dell tells the story of Harry Powers a man who made contact with a widow Asta Eicher, in 1930’s West Virginia through the personal columns of the paper and ended up being arrested for her murder and those of her three children.
Jayne Anne Phillips raises the tension by devoting the first part of the book by letting the readers view the Eichner household in the run up to the fateful meeting between Asta and the man she knew as Cornelius Pierson, one of his many aliases, as we view them through the eyes of Annabel, the youngest artistic daughter, Charles Boyle a former boarder with the family and Asta herself. Although we are aware from the synopsis that the family die, this realistic picture of the family only serves to make the outcome all that more horrifying.
The second half of the book is told from the viewpoint of the fictional Emily Thornhill, an unmarried journalist in her mid-thirties who goes to West Virginia to cover the trial. Emily’s character is a great medium, if a sometimes confusing one, as we witness her falling passionately in love and seeing ghostly visions but reacting in an entirely reasonable manner when she is confronted with the reality of the actions of the accused. Emily tries to understand why Harry Powers acted as he did but I’m not sure that she really succeeds in her quest although, neither did the Judge trying the case.
The author does a fantastic job of weaving fiction with fact in this book which is complemented by primary evidence in the format of photos and excerpts from the newspapers of the time. This book is very much written in the style of the times it is set in with period details and particularly the attitudes of the women who for the most part needed the security of marriage, at times the dialogue seems a little too precise in the effort to underline the fact that this was set over eighty years ago.
I received a copy of book in return for my honest review from the publishers Random House UK, ahead of publication date of 24 April 2014.