Monday, July 7, 2014

Quiet Dell by Jayne Anne Phillips

The year is 1931 and while life moves more slowly, human beings are always the same.  Astra Eicher, a young widow living in Chicago with her three children, is haunted by financial troubles.  She thinks she has found the answer when she joins a matrimonial bureau and starts to correspond with an eloquent man named Harry Powers.  He says he is rich and looking for a wife to share his good fortune.
He asks Astra to marry him without the two ever meeting.

Unfortunately, Harry Powers is one of the many false names of a scam artist who is writing women all over the country.  After finally meeting the women, he kills them and takes their money and possessions, netting little as these are not wealthy women.  In Astra's case, he kills her and then returns to the family home to retrieve the children who he also kills.  Harry Power is finally indicted for murder for his last victim, the woman after Astra.

Emily Thornhill is one of the few female journalists for the Chicago press.  She is drawn to the story of Harry Powers.  What made him so appealing to women?  Why did he kill them once he had conned them out of their meager possessions?  More importantly, how many women are victims not yet identified?  She is drawn into the story and is compelled to find out Powers' secrets and those of the women he betrayed.

Jayne Anne Phillips has written an interesting book based on a true case.  Harry Powers, born Herman Drenth, lived and had his murder chamber in Quiet Dell, West Virginia.  He is suspected of as many as fifty murders.  He lured his victims through the use of matrimonial bureaus and flowery missives, luring them to his garage in Quiet Dell, which he had outfitted with basement cells.  Phillips spends less time on the gory details of the case than the emotional fallout and how those involved in the case handle the realization of Powers' crimes.  She accurately recreates the feel of the Midwest in the 1930's.  This book is recommended for fans of true crime and historical fiction. 

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