The real-life murders perpetrated in the small West Virginian town of Quiet Dell are lovingly coaxed to life by Jayne Anne Phillips. The author spent years researching the tragedy, and claims that she was “haunted” by the family whose lives were so brutally cut short.
The novel begins with this family, the Eichlers: Asta, the middle-aged widow who was victimized by her late husband and yet still desperately seeks love; her eldest, mentally challenged daughter, Grethe; her son Hart, thrust into maturity following his father’s untimely death; and Annabel, the youngest daughter, with an inventive imagination. There is a sense of underlying doom to this section of the novel; the reader knows that the family is about to be slaughtered. Fortunately, the actual deed is not depicted, only hinted at through innuendo.
The next section introduces the fictional protagonist, Emily Thornhill. As the only female journalist at the Chicago Sun, she is an interesting study in the burgeoning independence of women in the 1930s. A host of other fictional characters are introduced through her, each adding another layer to an already complicated story.
While the prose of the novel is beautiful, paragraphs are dedicated to description and often slow down the progression. Another concern is the occasional insertion of Annabel’s ghost, who divulges some of the more gruesome moments of the murder of her family, and yet presides over the narrative as some benevolent spirit seeking justice. Despite these issues, readers who have an interest in true crime novels will find much to enjoy in Quiet Dell.