Quiet Dell

Quiet Dell

A Novel

  • reading group guide
From one of America’s most accomplished and acclaimed fiction writers, a spectacularly riveting novel based on a real-life multiple murder by a con man who preyed on widows— a story that has haunted Jayne Anne Phillips for more than four decades

In Chicago in 1931, Asta Eicher, mother of three, is lonely and despairing, pressed for money after the sudden death of her husband. She begins to receive seductive letters from a chivalrous, elegant man named Harry Powers, who promises to cherish and protect her, ultimately to marry her and to care for her and her children. Weeks later, all four Eichers are dead.

Emily Thornhill, one of the few women journalists in the Chicago press, becomes deeply invested in understanding what happened to this beautiful family, particularly to the youngest child, Annabel, an enchanting girl with a precocious imagination and sense of magic. Bold and intrepid, Emily allies herself with a banker who is wracked by guilt for not saving Asta. Emily goes to West Virginia to cover the murder trial and to investigate the story herself, accompanied by a charming and unconventional photographer who is equally drawn to the case.

Driven by secrets of their own, the heroic characters in this magnificent tale will stop at nothing to ensure that Powers is convicted. Mesmerizing and deeply moving, Quiet Dell is a tragedy, a love story, and a tour de force of obsession and imagination from one of America’s most celebrated writers.
  • Scribner | 
  • 464 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439172537 | 
  • October 2013
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Visiting QUIET DELL with Jayne Anne Phillips

Mesmerizing and deeply moving, the novel Quiet Dell is about a real-life multiple murder that took place near the town in West Virginia where celebrated writer Jayne Anne Phillips grew up. See a few of the photographs and newspaper headlines that ...

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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Quiet Dell includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Jayne Anne Phillips. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


After the deaths of her husband and mother-in-law in quick succession, Asta Eicher is left nearly penniless to care for her three children. She seeks a companion through a matrimonial bureau, and begins a correspondence with a wealthy widower who called himself Cornelius Pierson. Pierson promises her the security and support she desires. Within weeks, she and her children are dead. Emily Thornhill, a female reporter and thoroughly modern woman, becomes deeply invested in understanding what happened to this family, particularly to the youngest child, Annabel, an enchanting girl with a precocious imagination. Emily boldly pursues leads from local police in West Virginia. She becomes personally entwined with the Chicago banker who funds the investigation and who is wracked by guilt for not saving the Eicher family from ruin. Together, they are instrumental in seeing the case to its close and finding justice for the Eichers.

“Phillips’s prose is as haunting as the questions she raises about the natures of see more

About the Author

Jayne Anne Phillips
Photograph by Elena Seibert

Jayne Anne Phillips

Jayne Anne Phillips is the author of Lark and Termite, Motherkind, Shelter, and Machine Dreams, and the widely anthologized collections of stories, Fast Lanes and Black Tickets. A National Book Award and National Book Critic’s Circle Award finalist, Phillips is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, a Bunting Fellowship, the Sue Kaufman Prize, and an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. She is Distinguished Professor of English and Director of the MFA Program at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey, where she established The Writers At Newark Reading Series. Information, essays and text source photographs on her fiction can be viewed at JayneAnnePhillips.com.




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