For years author Jayne Anne Phillips carried in her wallet a newsprint photo of Asta Eicher, a widow, and her three children.
All died in 1931 at the hands of Harry Powers, who had contacted Eicher through a matrimonial agency and identified himself as a civil engineer looking for companionship.
In fact, he was skilled correspondent who preyed on vulnerable women by mail. Authorities recovered the bodies of Eicher and her children buried near Powers’ home in Quiet Dell, a community not far from where Phillips grew up in West Virginia.
Although Phillips’ 2013 novel, “Quiet Dell,” uses the actual names of the victims, the author invented their “thoughts, perceptions and relationships.”
Phillips also gave the youngest victim, 9-year-old Annabel, the ability to travel between adjacent dimensions, witnessing her murder from a detached perspective even as she experiences it. Readers jolted by this soon will encounter still more otherworldly references, several of them Phillips didn’t need to invent.
“The real names involved almost suggest a fairy tale,” Phillips said recently. “There is a Sheriff Grimm, a Judge Southern, and a Gore Hotel.”
Powers was executed in 1932. Phillips found trial transcripts, as well as contemporary newspaper accounts of the case. What interested her, Phillips said, was not only the murders but the moralizing they inspired.
“The story was spun as a warning to women not to have false expectations, or go outside the boundaries that society had prescribed for them,” she said.
Phillips will discuss “Quiet Dell” with Kansas City author Whitney Terrell at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Central Library, 14 W. 10th St.
Anyone still interested in politics on the Wednesday after Election Day can hear Denver area author Philip White discuss “Whistle Stop.”
That’s his new book on the 1948 upset victory of President Harry Truman over Republican presidential nominee and heavy favorite Thomas Dewey. The campaign has been chronicled before, including how it employed several young researchers in Washington, D.C., generating talking points for each of Truman’s 352 railroad stops.
So White dug deeper, tracking down the sons of two of those researchers. Johannes Hoeber was one of the researchers; he had fled Germany in 1938. Hoeber’s pay: $175 a week.
“That’s interesting when you think about today’s Super PACs,” White said.
White speaks at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Central Library. For more information, go to KCLibrary.org.