[446]: Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips


Simon & Schuster Canada | ARC paperback, 456 pages

Source: Publisher for review

Publication Date: October 15th, 2013

Adult Fiction | Mystery

Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

I’m kicking myself for  taking almost a year to get to this ARC. Had I know what I was missing, I wouldn’t have waited to so long to read it. But. Despite how engrossing this book was, I still had some misgivings, which I’ll attempt to explore more on my review.

The year was 1931. Asta Eicher, a widow with three children, was almost at the end of her ropes. Lonely and broke, she began corresponding with a charismatic stranger through letters.  Harry Powers promised to take charge of the family’s slow descent to poverty; and for a time, Asta felt like her life, and the children’s were about to change. A few months later however, they turned up dead. So began the investigation to a killing spree by a man who targeted lonely widows, desperate enough to believe that Harry Powers was their knight in shining armour.

The most tragic of all was Asta Eicher’s family. She had two girls and a boy. The oldest, Grethe, was a girl of fourteen. She had a mental disability brought on by a fever during her childhood. She was simple-minded. The second child was Hart. A boy who was both innocent and an old soul. When their father was killed, he’d had to be Grethe’s minder. The youngest, who was admittedly, the driving force of this novel was Annabel. A precocious child who saw through this world and the after life. There is nothing paranormal about this book; it is mostly mystical. It was a way of telling the Eicher’s story through Annabel’s post-mortem eyes. The thing is, by giving this entire family substance and life, the readers will have no choice but suffer through their sufferings. They weren’t merely an addendum or statistics but actual people. Another thing that broke my heart was that the family had another hope in the person of a family friend. He could’ve easily provided for them. He was rich and unattached. The last Christmas he spent with the family, he had every intention of proposing to Asta. And he did. But he was already too late. In the summer of the following year, their bodies were exhumed from Harry’s farm in Quiet Dell.

This book had me at hello. Between the novelty of the year that was, the romance between the reporter (Emily) and the banker (William), and the relationships between the victims and Harry Powers (aka, Cornelius Pierson), I couldn’t look away. The mystery also unfolded in a slow, deliberate manner; meant to grab the readers until we’re practically panting to see it to the end.

My problem with this novel revolves around one of the things that I’ve loved about this book: the romance between Emily and William. William, who’s married to an invalid. Their romance happened in the blink of an eye; there was no progression. They met and before the day ended, they were kissing. And I don’t know, perhaps it had to do with the era, but a woman whose husband was involved in an affair with somebody else is apparently acceptable then. Women were expected to turn a blind eye. Accept it even. I am used to the instant-love romances in YA, but when I’m reading an adult novel, there is almost an understanding that such a thing doesn’t happen. I almost thought that they had a history that I could’ve sworn I’d missed. But, to no avail.

I also had a problem with Emily being the apple of everyone’s eyes. She’s portrayed as Helen of Troy. Or someone whose beauty attracts them like a moth to a flame. Aside from William, there was her homosexual (or bi-sexual) colleague, and the sheriff, who’d given her the ins while the case was being investigated and tried. Everyone just fell madly in love with her!

Over all, Quiet Dell was a satisfying novel that had its positives and negatives. It’s a shame that something as inconsequential as a romance clouded over the entire experience.

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