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The Night of the Hunter: Vintage Movie Classics

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The bestselling, National Book Award–finalist novel that inspired Charles Laughton’s expressionist horror classic starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters.   Two young children, Pearl and John Harper, are being raised alone by their mother in Cresap’s Landing, Ohio. Their father Ben has just been executed for killing two men in the course of an armed robbery. Ben never t The bestselling, National Book Award–finalist novel that inspired Charles Laughton’s expressionist horror classic starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters.   Two young children, Pearl and John Harper, are being raised alone by their mother in Cresap’s Landing, Ohio. Their father Ben has just been executed for killing two men in the course of an armed robbery. Ben never told anyone where he hid the ten thousand dollars he stole; not his widow Willa, not his lawyer, nor his cell-mate Henry “Preacher” Powell. But Preacher, with his long history of charming his way into widows’ hearts and lives, has an inkling that Ben's money could be within his reach. As soon as he is free, Preacher makes his way up the river to visit the Harper family where—he hopes—a little child shall lead him to the fortune that he seeks.   Foreword by JULIA KELLER


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The bestselling, National Book Award–finalist novel that inspired Charles Laughton’s expressionist horror classic starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters.   Two young children, Pearl and John Harper, are being raised alone by their mother in Cresap’s Landing, Ohio. Their father Ben has just been executed for killing two men in the course of an armed robbery. Ben never t The bestselling, National Book Award–finalist novel that inspired Charles Laughton’s expressionist horror classic starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters.   Two young children, Pearl and John Harper, are being raised alone by their mother in Cresap’s Landing, Ohio. Their father Ben has just been executed for killing two men in the course of an armed robbery. Ben never told anyone where he hid the ten thousand dollars he stole; not his widow Willa, not his lawyer, nor his cell-mate Henry “Preacher” Powell. But Preacher, with his long history of charming his way into widows’ hearts and lives, has an inkling that Ben's money could be within his reach. As soon as he is free, Preacher makes his way up the river to visit the Harper family where—he hopes—a little child shall lead him to the fortune that he seeks.   Foreword by JULIA KELLER

30 review for The Night of the Hunter: Vintage Movie Classics

  1. 5 out of 5

    Candi

    "The faces ran together like the years; like the long rides in the yellow-lit railroad coaches through the clicking river midnights as he wandered from town to town. Lord, won’t I never settle down? Lord, won’t you never say the word that my work is done? Another one, Lord? All right, Lord!" Loosely based on the true story of serial killer Harry Powers, The Night of the Hunter is a truly hair-raising, spine-tingling Southern Gothic classic, which was honestly more terrifying than anything else I "The faces ran together like the years; like the long rides in the yellow-lit railroad coaches through the clicking river midnights as he wandered from town to town. Lord, won’t I never settle down? Lord, won’t you never say the word that my work is done? Another one, Lord? All right, Lord!" Loosely based on the true story of serial killer Harry Powers, The Night of the Hunter is a truly hair-raising, spine-tingling Southern Gothic classic, which was honestly more terrifying than anything else I’ve read during any October for quite some time. The fact is, a realistic tale such as this gives me more nightmares than a traditional ghost story, despite the thrills those still stir up. It is Depression-era 1930’s in West Virginia and father and husband Ben Harper, in an act of desperation, steals $10,000 and kills two others. Before the ‘blue men’ arrive to take him away, Ben shares a tremendous secret with son John, and exacts a promise from him never to share said secret and for him to watch over little sister Pearl. At ten years old, John is weighed down with a hefty and dangerous burden. The entire town muses over the location of the stolen money – after all, money like this could come in very handy during these lean times. Enter Harry Powell, more simply known as ‘Preacher’. He shows up in town just when Willa Harper is at her most vulnerable, and when the townspeople are in need of hope and the promise of salvation. Naturally, with his Bible in hand and the word of God pouring forth from his lips, Preacher is welcomed by the community with open arms. One person, however, is not at all convinced by Preacher’s smooth talk and sweet hymns. John seems to be alone in his instant dislike… rather in his extreme loathing and fear… of the Preacher. "He knew almost at once that Preacher was there or had been there not an instant before because there was a Preacher smell in the silent air and it was the smell of dread in his nose, and doglike his flesh gathered and bunched at the scent of it." Seriously, those tiny little hairs on the back of your neck with stand on end too when you read about this creepiest of all villains! If he is evil personified, then widow Rachel Cooper is an angel in disguise. I won’t tell you her role in the novel, because I don’t want to divulge too much of the plot. I will say, however, that this lady rocks! "She was old and yet she was ageless – in the manner of such staunch country widows. Gaunt, plain-spoken, and hard of arm, she could stand up to three of the toughest, shrewdest cattle dealers in Pleasants County and get every penny she thought her hog was worth." Dealing in livestock isn’t all this woman can do… Besides making your blood run cold, The Night of the Hunter will also surprise you. It’s more than just a thriller, it’s also beautifully written. I was expecting a fright, but what I didn’t expect was the gorgeous prose sprinkled throughout the entire book. Phrases like this caught my attention: "The smoke of morning chimneys rose from the stacks of the houses down at Cresap’s Landing and hung for a moment before curling under the gray sky and dragged to earth again like cheap fur collars on old coats." You’ll also be charmed by John and little Pearl. The Preacher is relentless in his determination to get what he wants, and I was cringing and gasping for breath as these little kids were placed in harm’s way time after time. John is courageous and enterprising for a young soul, and you can’t help but root for him all the way. Highly recommended. Thanks to my dear Goodreads friend Sara who was willing to share her copy of this fantastic book with me!! Now I’m off to add the 1955 movie to my watchlist. "Lord save little children! Because with every child ever born of woman’s womb there is a time of running through a shadowed place, an alley with no doors, and a hunter whose footsteps ring brightly along the bricks behind him."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    While it pains me deep down in the dark, fleshy crevices of my book-loving core to admit, this noir classic was a utter MISS for me, and my feelings can be fairly summed up by the famous villain’s iconic tattoos. I don’t think it’s all the author’s fault, and my oft-awry expectations will saddle a large chunk of the fail burden for this one…but more on that below. First a quick summary to set the table. PLOT SUMMARY: Taking place in the American South during the Great Depression, and based on While it pains me deep down in the dark, fleshy crevices of my book-loving core to admit, this noir classic was a utter MISS for me, and my feelings can be fairly summed up by the famous villain’s iconic tattoos. I don’t think it’s all the author’s fault, and my oft-awry expectations will saddle a large chunk of the fail burden for this one…but more on that below. First a quick summary to set the table. PLOT SUMMARY: Taking place in the American South during the Great Depression, and based on the real life crimes of serial killer Harry Powers, the plot revolves around murderous lady-hater Harry Powell and his attempt to locate the $10,000 hidden by his now dead prison cellmate. To this end, Powell, upon his release from Prison, impersonates a “preacher” and woos the dead man’s widow and her two children. Things do not go well for anyone, and what follows is violence, murder, evangelical chicanery and a desperate chase the ends in… THOUGHTS: The Movie Yet Unseen: I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I mention that first because I’m not sure how tied other peoples’ impression of the story are tied to the film. I am looking forward to seeing the move and I think that it may succeed with me where the book did not for two primary reasons. First, just looking at pictures of Robert Mitchum as “the Preacher” is enough to chill my hemoglobin: He looks like creepy incarnate, and knowing Mitchum’s prodigious skill at portraying the dark, nastiness of humanity’s seedy underbelly, I’m confident that he can inject the sense of eerie tension that, for reasons I mention below, the novel didn’t deliver. *shudder* Second, my biggest issue with the story, other than the little girl, was the sauntering, slow unfolding of the plot and the lack of enough impact points to drive the tension. It seems a good bet that the movie will be able to distill the essence of the story into something far more dramatic. Things I liked: On the side of amore, I thought Davis Grubb did a superb job creating a sense of place with his story. His depiction of the South felt genuine, and you could feel the crushing-weight of poverty and despair. The dialogue and attitudes of his characters felt natural and rang true. I also loved the first 25 pages, during which we’re introduced to both our future victims and their infamous tormentor. The Preacher is a terrific character, and Grubb does a nice job slowly unveiling his malignity and his disturbing view of the world, all of which is wonderfully reflected in his unique tattoos. See this hand I’m holdin’ up? See them letters tattooed on it? Love, Ben, love! That’s what they spell. This hand—this right hand of mine—this hand is Love. But wait, Ben! Look! …Look, Boy! This left hand! Hate, Ben, hate! Now here’s the moral, boy. These two hands are the soul of mortal man! Hate and Love, Ben—warring one against the other from the womb to the grave-- The Preacher sees himself as avenging “instrument of God,” ordained to bring God’s wrath to a corrupt world. Up to this point in the story, I was hooked and thought I was in for a memorable experience. Then… Then… Things I didn’t like: Then... NOTHING HAPPENED. Well, not nothing, but the pace sputtered and slowed to a crawl. The story began to look more like a “slice of hard life” look at living in the depressed South than a psychological thriller involving a cat and mouse game with a psychotic killer. And while there’s nothing wrong with the first kind of story, it was not the story I was expecting when I picked this up. I was looking for a dark, disturbing In Cold Blood meets Cape Fear. What I got was Grapes of Wrath meets Little House on the Prairie with a few moments of ill-deployed tension. The biggest hindrance to my enjoyment of the story was that I simply never came to care about a single person in the story. The wife came across as weak, flimsy, and unsympathetic. The boy, the central “hero” of the story, was okay, but just barely, and I never vested to any great degree in his well being. As for the little girl, I hated her. If I’m completely honest, I was rooting for the Preacher to take her out of the game. She annoyed me to the very last nerve in my body and committed every single “stupid character” offense that drives readers crazy. She’s the person at whom you’re constantly yelling things like, “Don’t go in there,” “Don’t open that,” “What are you stupid, don’t tell him that.” Ugh… With such a lack of empathy for the characters, it was hard impossible for the menace of the Preacher to take hold of me. Thus, despite being a unique, terrifically diabolical bad guy, his efforts were wasted because my lack of concern for the characters never garnered enough of sympathy to fix my busted “give a damn.” This is all just my impression from reading this and I know that I am in the distinct minority here. I think there are many times that a book can lose its reader for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the story, whether from missed expectations, the reader’s mood, or some other outside influence. That may have been the case here. I don’t know. All I can say for certain is that it did not connect with me and I was extremely pleased to be done with it, so I could rush out and rent the movie…which I hope to watch this evening. 2.0 stars.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lawyer

    The Night of the Hunter: Davis Grubb's novel of the Sociopath in the Pulpit This novel was selected as a Moderator's Choice for members of On the Southern Literary Trail for October, 2014. Come join us. The Night of the Hunter was selected by members of On the Southern Literary Trail as a group read for October, 2018. Davis Grubb, born July 1919, Moundsville, WV, died July 24, 1980, NY, NY. Grubb was the author of eleven novels. The Night of the Hunter, First Ed., First Prtg., Harpe The Night of the Hunter: Davis Grubb's novel of the Sociopath in the Pulpit This novel was selected as a Moderator's Choice for members of On the Southern Literary Trail for October, 2014. Come join us. The Night of the Hunter was selected by members of On the Southern Literary Trail as a group read for October, 2018. Davis Grubb, born July 1919, Moundsville, WV, died July 24, 1980, NY, NY. Grubb was the author of eleven novels. The Night of the Hunter, First Ed., First Prtg., Harper Brothers, NY, NY, 1953. The novel was a finalist for the National Book Award in 1955. “Not that you mind the killings! There's plenty of killings in your book, Lord..”--Preacher Harry Powell Let't get right down to it. Davis Grubb wrote a Southern-Gothic classic when he created The Night of the Hunter. It was his first published novel, appearing in 1953. Charles Laughton filmed Grubb's novel, which premiered in 1955. It was the only film that Laughton ever chose to direct. Laughton's masterpiece was added to the National Film Registry in 1992. It should be there. It has been chosen by the Criterion Collection as a selection among films deemed worthy of restoration. Charles Laughton directs Robert Mitchum as the murderous Harry Powell It is the Great Depression, sometime in the 1930s, along the Ohio River border of West Virginia. Times are bad. Families are disrupted. It is not unusual for children to roam the roads looking for food and shelter wherever they can find it. And men, who would not otherwise have done so, do desperate things. Traditional ballads tell of the times. TIMES ARE GETTING HARD, BOYS (Unknown, expanded by Lee Hays) Times are getting hard, boys Money's getting scarce If things don't get no better, boys Gonna leave this place Take my true love by the hand Lead her thru the town Saying good-bye to everyone Good-bye to everyone Take my bible from the bed Shotgun from the wall Take old Sal and hitch her up The wagon for to haul Pile the chairs and beds up high Let nothing drag the ground Sal can pull and we can push We're bound to leave this town Made a crop a year ago It withered to the ground Tried to get some credit But the banker turned me down But I'm goin' to Californ-i-ay Where everything is green Goin' to have the best ole farm That you have ever seen "Times are gettin' hard boys" was collected by Carl Sandburg. It's earliest known printing is in Sandburg's The American Songbag published in 1927. Lee Hays a member of the legendary Weavers, blackballed as a result of the McCarthy hearings, ultimately faded from view. However, Hall provided the lyrics. Pete Seger, another member of the Weavers refused to disappear. Listen to him sing Times Are Gettin' Hard . Ben Harper, husband to Willa, and father to ten year old John and four year old Pearl, walks out of the hardware store in which he works, determinedly enters the bank across the street, successfully robbing the bank of $10,000.00. But he kills the teller and the bank president in the process. Ben makes it home in time to stash the money in a clever hiding place, swearing his two young children to tell no one, not even their mother where the money is. It's a heavy burden to put on a ten year old boy. Pearl hasn't a clue to the significance of the oath she has sworn. Then, young John Harper watches his father carried away by the law. Telling where the money is hidden might save Ben Harper's life, but he's not buying it. He's guilty. And he is sentenced to hang by the neck till dead. Ben's lawyer tells him there's hope for clemency if he coughs up the money. The answer is no. Willa, with a glint of greed in her eye, begs Ben to tell her where the money is, on her last visit with him on the eve of his execution. Ben tells her the money will drive her headlong to Hell. Ben's cellmate is Preacher, serving s stint in the pen for auto theft. He begs, wheedles, and cajoles Ben to reveal the hiding place. Ben still refuses and takes his secret to his death on the gallows. The hangman said he kicked for a while before he went still. He shudders at knowing he executed a man with a wife and two children. Preacher is Harry Powell, a sociopath of the highest order. "Is it twelve, or is it six," he questions himself. For Harry is not just a simple car thief. He's the murderer of any number of widows into whose affections he has talked his way in. A man of the cloth. A man of God. Who could be a more perfect suitor. Well, it's not Harry Powell, whose character is based on the true case of Harry Powers, dubbed "The Lonely Hearts Club Killer," who swung from the gallows in Moundsville, West Virginia, in 1932. Harry Powers. Innocent looking, isn't he? Among his victims, a widow and her three children. Their bodies and that of another widow were found in his home. What kind of childhood did Harry Powell have to cause him to hate women with the vile abhorrence he held for them. Why was every woman the Whore of Babylon? Harry works his way into the homes of widows and murders them for the small amounts of cash stashed in the sugar bowl on the dining room table. He will preach a revival here and there and pass the hat for enough money to keep him alive until God tells him it's time to kill another woman. Grubbs writes at breakneck pace. Preacher Harry is out of the penitentiary a month after Ben Harper Swings. He's in Ben's home town in a matter of days. Willa, given a mercy job at Icy and Walter Spoon's Ice Cream Parlor, is no match for Harry's smooth talking ways. And he's so good with the children. "My little lambs," he calls them. Pearl, who has no real memory of her father has no problem calling Preacher "Daddy." John sees through Harry for what he is. Harry's out for the money and he'll get it at any cost. It's not much of a spoiler to say Willa doesn't have a long and happy second marriage, not after she overhears Harry asking Pearl where is the money. No one knows where Willa went With Willa out of the picture, Harry has the children at his mercy. It is easy to divide and conquer when dealing with a ten year old and a four year old. It is easy to lock John into his room while he wheedles the secret of the money's hiding place from Pearl. That Grubb has a ten year old outwit the wily psychopath might be a real stretch of the imagination. Grubb pulls it off without a hitch. Pride does go before a fall. The Preacher underestimates the determination instilled in young John Harper by the promise he made to his father to guard Pearl with his life. Thanks to John, the children escape. It's a ride down the Ohio River in his father's old skiff in which he and his father had run trot lines in better days. It's on that run down the river that the children encounter Rachel Cooper, the most finely rendered character in the novel. Rachel has long been widowed and on her own. Even during the Depression she is self sufficient, selling eggs and butter. And if there are such things as Angels, Rachel is one of them. She's taken in three children, tossed into her lap by the harsh economic times. If there's room for three chicks, there's room for five. John and Pearl have a new home. Lillian Gish as Rachel Cooper. She protects her chicks. But it is inevitable that Harry will track the two children down. John sees him at a distance and hears him singing. "Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms. Leaning, leaning. Leaning on the everlasting arms." Just as John saw through the Preacher's false broadcloth coat, so will Rachel. It's only a question of whether good or evil will win. This is a remarkable work of literature. The prose is flawless. Grubb drops you into the minds of each of the characters, even that of Harry Powell. It is a place in which you don't want to linger, but linger there you will. And Grubb compels you to stay there until he's ready to release you from his artful grasp. Grubb grew up in Moundsville, West Virginia. He saw the effects of the Depression on his own parents. His ancestors had lived there for over two hundred years. He drew on his childhood experiences to create the world he wrote of in The Night of the Hunter. He remembered well. He wrote well. And in no other work did he write as well of social corruption through the misuse of religion and the disruption of the family as he did with this short jewel of a novel. Read it. Read it more than once. Watch how he put it together. It's just that damned good. Charles Laughton may have gotten the glory. But there would have been no glory without Davis Grubb. Nor would Laughton have been praised so much without such a strong screenplay, written by no less than James Agee. Nor would Robert Mitchum ever have had his unforgettable role, with the words love and hate tattooed across the backs of his fingers. James Agee, dead at the age of forty-three, May 16, 1955 "These letters spell out the Lesson of Life,boy! boomed Preacher with a cozening and unctuous geniality. Shall I tell you the little story of the Right-Hand-Left-Hand-the tale of Good and Evil? ...Hate! roared Preacher, thrusting up the fingers of his left hand so that all might read. It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low! And since that ungodly day, brethren, the left hand has borne the curse of the living and Almighty Jehovah! ...Love! cried Preacher, thrusting up the right hand now. See these here fingers, dear friends! These fingers has veins that lead right square to the heart--to the almighty soul of Man! The right hand, friends! The Hand of Love! Now watch and I'll show you the story of Life! The fingers of these hands, dear hearts!--they're always a tuggin' and a warrin' one hand against the other!" Ah, yes, dear hearts, that's some mighty fine writin'! REFERENCES "The Serial Killer of Clarke County," http://www.webcitation.org/62gVgIQbm "Davis Grubb," Annie Merner Pfeiffer Library, http://www.wvwc.edu/library/wv_author... "In Their Own Country, Davis Grubb," West Virginia Center For the Book, http://wvcenterforthebook.lib.wv.us/I... EXTRAS! EXTRAS! Night of the Hunter Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e5AKK... Charles Laughton Reads from The Night of the Hunter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdYWa... Robert Mitchum sings "Leaning on the Everlasting Love" for a good shudder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mdYWa... Listen to Grubb talk about writing and reading from his works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-m-iq... , Note: This is the first part of six. One part leads you to the next. Rare to find this much of an author's lectures preserved so readily available. Charles Laughton and James Agee feuded over the sceenplay of "The Night of the Hunter." Laughton claimed sole credit for the screenplay. It was not until years later that Agee's reputation was vindicated. Read Downriver and Heavenward With James Agee by Michael Sragow Agee: Film Writing and Selected Journalism and Agee: “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,” “A Death in the Family,” Shorter Fiction for the Library of America. He is the author of Victor Fleming: An American Movie Master.

  4. 5 out of 5

    ``Laurie Henderson

    Have you ever seen the classic film of the same name starring Robert Mitchum? One of the scariest movies I ever saw when growing up so I couldn't wait to read the book. Who could ever forget the chilling Mitchum singing the old hymn; "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" as he chased 2 innocent children as trying to escape their murderous stepdad. The author was inspired by true events occurring in West Virginia during the Depression era by serial killer Harry Powers, who had married and murdered 2 Have you ever seen the classic film of the same name starring Robert Mitchum? One of the scariest movies I ever saw when growing up so I couldn't wait to read the book. Who could ever forget the chilling Mitchum singing the old hymn; "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms" as he chased 2 innocent children as trying to escape their murderous stepdad. The author was inspired by true events occurring in West Virginia during the Depression era by serial killer Harry Powers, who had married and murdered 2 widows and their children. The book begins with a botched bank robbery by a desperate man who barely has time to return home to hide the money before the police arrive to arrest him. He extracts a promise from his son John, aged 10 and little daughter Pearl, age 5 that they will never tell where he has hidden the money. Not even their mother can be told because this money is only to be spent when they become adults. The man is soon sent to the state prison where he has the misfortune to have Harry Powell as his cell mate. Harry is determined to find out where the money has been hidden but his cell mate will go to his death without disclosing this information to anyone. Harry Powell is soon released from prison and he heads straight for the poor man's widow, hoping she will give him the information he's seeking. He arrives in the guise of an travelling preacher and can give a good sermon when necessary to earn a little money. Everything is working out well and the young, lonely widow soon agrees to marry him. Everyone in town is overjoyed to see her marry the fine, outstanding preacher except for her son John who isn't fooled by the con man for one minute. This poor kid keeps trying to tell the adults that Harry is constantly asking them about the money but none of them believe him. Harry is disappointed to learn the widow has no idea where the money is so he turns his charms on the 2 children hoping they will confess. Since he no longer needs his new wife he quickly dispatches her to join her late husband in the afterlife and plans on taking the children with him when he leaves town. John and Pearl are able to lure him down to the cellar and then lock him in as they run for their lives to the Ohio River just outside of town. They manage to escape Harry, just barely, by pushing off in a little boat that quickly takes them down stream. If they thought they were rid of Harry they are soon proven wrong as the relentless hunter tracks them down from town to town along the river singing the mournful hymn "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms". Will the 2 innocent children be able to escape this determined serial killer or will they be able to find refuge from their tormentor? You won't be able to put this book down until you find out. I highly recommend this book and the movie too.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Margitte

    Ohio river. Somewhere in a valley along its shores, a young boy and his family lived happily ever after, until his dad, Ben Harper, robbed a bank, stashed the money somewhere and made his ten-your-old son, John, and four-year-old daughter, Pearl, swear to never reveal the location. They had to swear, swear, swear, swear. And they did. They promised never to tell their mom, Willa, neither. And they didn't. The secret was not so safe. It turned out to be a fateful pledge they made.The evilness of m Ohio river. Somewhere in a valley along its shores, a young boy and his family lived happily ever after, until his dad, Ben Harper, robbed a bank, stashed the money somewhere and made his ten-your-old son, John, and four-year-old daughter, Pearl, swear to never reveal the location. They had to swear, swear, swear, swear. And they did. They promised never to tell their mom, Willa, neither. And they didn't. The secret was not so safe. It turned out to be a fateful pledge they made.The evilness of mankind, the greed and desperation of the Thirties, bloomed around the two children, forcing them into a life of the survival of the fittest. They had limited tools to understand the dark side of human nature, but instinct demanded of young John to keep his promise to his father to protect his little sister, come preacher or the hunter of the night. Fear dotted young John's daily meanderings, and came calling in his dreams at night. Especially at night when the full moon rose. The two children could not escape all the other children's chant at Cresap's Landing: Hing Hang Hung! See what the hangman done. Hung Hang Hing See the robber swing. Hing Hang Hung! Now my song is done." How possible was it for a ten-year-old boy to convince the world of the devil in disguise? The man with LOVE and HATE tattooed on the flesh of his fingers. He had Jehovah on his tongue and a quick knife in his fists. When the cloth was the man's holy attire and the Bible his mantra, who would believe a little boy? How can young John convince his mother that religion also had the scoundrels covered and love was not what it was meant to be for her? His dad not only left him with the secret, but also with a skiff. And coming with it was uncle Birdie, his dad's old friend. Uncle Birdie understood more than he let on. "You done a good job with Dad's skiff, Uncle Birdie.' 'Nothing at all, boy. She's your skiff now. But say! -- I reckon I could have your permission to take her out once in a while on my own?' 'Shucks yes, Uncle Birdie. You're practically a part owner. You fixed her up.' 'Well now boy, it'd be just grand if I could take her out ever'day for a little mess of catfish or tobacky boxes. Besides -- a boat needs usin' to keep her trim.' Inadvertently(or was it?) his dad left him with the two things he needed to do the right thing. The Ohio river was his only way out in the end. Really? Old Rachel Cooper, way down stream, many weeks away, fostered children who were left as debris along the river of doom and destruction of the Great Depression. "When morning shot its golden shafts into the mists of the trees in the yard Rachel stole softly into the kitchen to the stairway for a moment and stared in at the children on the steps, filled suddenly with the wonder that each of us must feel at least once in our lives: the knowing that children are man at its strongest, that they are possessed, in those few short seasons of the little years, of more strength and endurance than God is ever to grant them again. They abide. They hurdle together as these children now did: asleep in blessed faith and innocence beneath doom's own elbow, thumbs tucked blissfully between their sweet lips." First published in 1954, this bestseller attracted attention for not only the fast-moving, thrilling suspense drama, but also for its outstanding prose. It is words like these that kept me riveted to the tale: "And it was probable that when Miz Cunningham like and ancient barn owl fluttered and flapped to earth at last, they would take her away and pluck her open and find her belly lined with fur and feathers and the tiny mice skulls of myriad dreams." The novel is based on the true case of the serial killer Harry Powers, dubbed "The Lonely Hearts Club Killer," who went to the gallows in 1932 in Moundsville, West Virginia. Mikes Review convinced me that this golden oldie was a must-read. I found this old copy in South Africa online at a secondhand bookstore and waited almost six weeks, due to the post office strike in the country, to finally hold it in my hands this past weekend. It was one of the best reads this year. Thanks for this wonderful recommendation, Mike. For some or other inexplicable reason I feel enriched by it. My goodness, what a magnificent read it was! RECOMMENDED TO EVERYONE!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Stacy

    I loved this book! (as a child, and since). I first got this as a gift years ago, and have reread many times.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    File this one under the heading of What is Possible is Scarier than What Isn’t. This book is perfect if you want to be truly frightened for Halloween, because I would much rather have a ghost in my house than have Preacher Harry Powell sleeping under my roof. The novel is set in West Virginia during the great depression. Ten-year old John Harper’s father, Ben, commits a crime, steals several thousand dollars, and in the process kills two men. Before he is hauled off by the lawmen who come for him File this one under the heading of What is Possible is Scarier than What Isn’t. This book is perfect if you want to be truly frightened for Halloween, because I would much rather have a ghost in my house than have Preacher Harry Powell sleeping under my roof. The novel is set in West Virginia during the great depression. Ten-year old John Harper’s father, Ben, commits a crime, steals several thousand dollars, and in the process kills two men. Before he is hauled off by the lawmen who come for him, he hides the money and tells John were it is, swearing him to secrecy. His crime and the terrible secret he thrusts upon his son sets a frightful series of events into motion, that bring into the lives of his wife and children the most evil of evil men, a self-proclaimed preacher named Harry Powell, who is intent on finding the money at any cost. I’m not sure I breathed normally through the entire telling of this tale. That Grubb based it on a true story that occurred in his own hometown made it even more harrowing. I am not generally a fan of either murder thrillers or horror films, which probably explains why I never saw the classic movie made from this novel. Robert Mitchum was cast as the soulless Powell and, having seen him in Cape Fear, I had no problem imagining him in the role. I remember having a lot of trouble sleeping after seeing Cape Fear--I think Night of the Hunter might have the same effect. I believe this is the kind of book the word spine-chilling was invented for.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Maureen

    shoot! shoot! davis grubb kicked me. not just once, but twice i yelled aloud with the tension that his book built up in me. the first was a yelp of fear while the second was one of pure desperation. the terrible production values of this edition notwithstanding (i'm really torn about saying that because i appreciate that blackmask has it in print but the minimal attention to make this book more readable just hasn't been made -- a used copy would really be the way to go), this is a simply told ye shoot! shoot! davis grubb kicked me. not just once, but twice i yelled aloud with the tension that his book built up in me. the first was a yelp of fear while the second was one of pure desperation. the terrible production values of this edition notwithstanding (i'm really torn about saying that because i appreciate that blackmask has it in print but the minimal attention to make this book more readable just hasn't been made -- a used copy would really be the way to go), this is a simply told yet complicated little novel, the story of john and pearl, a little boy and a little girl bound by a promise, who first lose their father to wild desperation and then their mother to persuasion, a woman seduced not by sin but by the idea of it. there's a lot of talk about sin in this novel: it completely immerses you into an echo of the world along the ohio valley, of moundsville, virginia in the era the author grubb grew up. the hunter in the title, desperate for the children to break their compact is harry powell, their new stepfather. he prefers to be called "preacher" and has a peculiar and terrifying compact of his own -- with what he believes is god. but he is hardly the only character that preaches here; this world the children inhabit seems to point fingers from the first, and the terror that jack, the responsible older brother feels, is a key aspect of the novel. this is a little boy breaking under strain as he tries to keep himself and his stupid baby sister alive. and i was caught up in his journey and his disintegration even as he tries to keep everything together. there are many deep nuances in this novel that are overlooked (by necessity) in the film. i felt i couldn't review this novel without rewatching the classic 1955 film of the same name directed by charles laughton, starring robert mitchum (pre-cape fear). i threw it on once i finished reading. there were one or two things i wanted to refresh in my mind because i remembered them differently, and while i have seen the film many times, my memory for fine detail isn't what it used to be. what shocked me is that after confirming what i felt might be "missing", laughton's night of the hunter is no longer the film i see in my head having read the novel. i love it still; don't get me wrong. it's an amazing adaptation: laughton really took the screenplay in hand, and when you read the night of the hunter, you see the opportunities for a screenwriter and laughton took as many of them as was allowed in his era. i've no doubt if he had the resources we have now, and were alive to utilize them, he might turn out a film that is closer to the one i picture. he certainly hints at it. this film is artfully wrought but sometimes he deals in subtext or skims over, subduing some layers of the novel, losing its ripe, heightened sense of sexuality that could only be hinted at in the film code of the time ... now having read the novel in its full bloom, i could actually see somebody remaking it, if it were done well. i think it might end up being one of the scariest movies of all time, even, if it were done well. or you could swing it to the opposite end of the spectrum and camp it up. anyway. the film is neutered in a way the novel is not. :) i was reminded of my appreciation of the masterful handling of the shadows, camera shots and set pieces in the original film, my deep appreciation of the charisma of mitchum playing the preacher, and the powerhouse that is lillian gish in the role of rachel cooper, avenging angel, absolutely and completely embracing the spirit of the character depicted in the novel but frankly, also improving upon her just in sheer presence. there's some sustained sermonizing from rachel cooper in the book, particularly at the very end, and while i can understand her outrage, there's far too many words from her on the suffering of the children. but lillian gish says a handful of sentences and exudes righteousness -- laughton also wisely bookends the film with her guiding presence, splitting up and substantially reducing her diatribe to bare and poignant essentials. it's a shining example (thought there are others) where i think the novel could have used a little trimming, and that's what i can't go whole hog even though i was captivated by it. sometimes it drags a little but mostly, the pace is brisk and i was swept along by the narrative, by the different voices who tell this harrowing story of frustration, of despair, of lost orphans on the road. i plan on letting davis grubb kick me a few more times, if he can. :)

  9. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    Well, what a great little book that I would never have picked up without Mike Sullivan's recommended read for moderator's choice for October in "On the Southern Literary Trail" group. The dark days of the depression, a malevolent "preacher" who preys on widows for their money before he murders them, two small children trying to escape his clutches, and an old woman who helps and protects them. All of these factors make for a riveting read that's hard to put down. A perfect Halloween read to set Well, what a great little book that I would never have picked up without Mike Sullivan's recommended read for moderator's choice for October in "On the Southern Literary Trail" group. The dark days of the depression, a malevolent "preacher" who preys on widows for their money before he murders them, two small children trying to escape his clutches, and an old woman who helps and protects them. All of these factors make for a riveting read that's hard to put down. A perfect Halloween read to set the mood. Now to watch the movie, starring Robert Mitchum as the Preacher. Here's hoping my library comes through for me on this one.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Doug H

    Some of the prose was admirable, but the child protagonist and his little sister got on my nerves almost immediately. They didn't feel believable to me and I kept muttering things to myself like: "hey John-boy, you might be eight, but blue people? Come on, give me a break: you must know what cops are. Also, just move the damned money to a new hiding place without telling your sister. Duh. Problem solved." And, man oh man, I hated that twirpy little sister so much that I found myself routing for Some of the prose was admirable, but the child protagonist and his little sister got on my nerves almost immediately. They didn't feel believable to me and I kept muttering things to myself like: "hey John-boy, you might be eight, but blue people? Come on, give me a break: you must know what cops are. Also, just move the damned money to a new hiding place without telling your sister. Duh. Problem solved." And, man oh man, I hated that twirpy little sister so much that I found myself routing for the killer to slit her throat. Probably not what the author intended. Four stars for the prose plus two stars for the characters equals three stars.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Camie

    If you grew up watching Nightmare Theater or Alfred Hitchcock movies back when televisions were gigantic and screens were black and white you may enjoy this book which circa 1953 was the basis for a favorite horror movie starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters and was responsible for many a childhood fright. John and Pearl Harper are very naive little kids growing up in depression era small town Ohio when their father swings for robbing the local bank of $10,000, killing two men, and leaving t If you grew up watching Nightmare Theater or Alfred Hitchcock movies back when televisions were gigantic and screens were black and white you may enjoy this book which circa 1953 was the basis for a favorite horror movie starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters and was responsible for many a childhood fright. John and Pearl Harper are very naive little kids growing up in depression era small town Ohio when their father swings for robbing the local bank of $10,000, killing two men, and leaving their mother Willa an easy target for an opportunistic old cell mate of their daddies named Preacher. He's a memorable tall and handsome villain who comes to town straight from from the pen singing gospel hymns while sporting knuckles tattooed with LOVE and HATE and seeking out the secret whereabouts of the still missing money and ready to cause plenty of trouble. Loosely based on the true crime story of a man known to track down " lonely heart" widows and rob them of both their fortunes and their lives, this is a good pick if you're looking for a very vintage but still creepy Halloween season read. Read for On The Southern Literary Trail -Moderators choice 10/2018 4 stars

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marvin

    Davis Grubb's Night of The Hunter is usually described as a classic horror-thriller. However, it is really more in the line of the dark rural tales of Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCuller. Grubb's talent is in combining the dark reality of rural America of the Great Depression with the modern suspense of a Richard Matheson. Add the fact that Grubb eschews quotation marks and you could call him a precursor to the equally dark Cormac McCarthy. Yet any discussion of this novel will always end with Davis Grubb's Night of The Hunter is usually described as a classic horror-thriller. However, it is really more in the line of the dark rural tales of Flannery O'Connor and Carson McCuller. Grubb's talent is in combining the dark reality of rural America of the Great Depression with the modern suspense of a Richard Matheson. Add the fact that Grubb eschews quotation marks and you could call him a precursor to the equally dark Cormac McCarthy. Yet any discussion of this novel will always end with its villian Preacher Harry Powers. His hands tattooed HATE and LOVE has become a fixture in the American psyche and his charisma and power over people is the archetype for any psychopathic killer that appeared on stage, screen and literature after him. Night of The Hunter is an riveting read and it is almost impossible to put down once you started reading it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    This is truly a 5 star for the prose. It's rich, authentic and it has a rhythm as poetry. But to be honest, I can't say it is beautiful or lyrical. Because it is also horrifying and cruel. As much as any non-fiction true crime serial killer forensics of the present. Probably worse, since the "proof" was much harder in surmise for consequence. Many years ago I read about half of this work and stopped. But I finished it this time. More than psychosis or torture or captivity hells- the scenarios of This is truly a 5 star for the prose. It's rich, authentic and it has a rhythm as poetry. But to be honest, I can't say it is beautiful or lyrical. Because it is also horrifying and cruel. As much as any non-fiction true crime serial killer forensics of the present. Probably worse, since the "proof" was much harder in surmise for consequence. Many years ago I read about half of this work and stopped. But I finished it this time. More than psychosis or torture or captivity hells- the scenarios of children being stalked and sought for any such agendas become repulsive to me. Quickly. Off-putting to the point beyond war or natural tragedy or most any other human reality obscene disasters. The movie was excellent. Having seen it many decades ago, I remembered it too. Bob Mitchum young- he had ability and did this monster perfectly. Handsomely too. But honestly, I did not appreciate the skill of the word craft on that long ago read to the extent that I did in this 2018 go around. It's a oral exhibit of evil personified- if you read some of this aloud. A terrible time when so many rural areas were filled with the "lost". But not much difference in how the con man or woman can manipulate. Or in some of those exact rural locations today. It's still a gruesome tale. Classical and brilliant in composition and message. But viscerally stomach churning and with aftermath of little "after" calm, IMHO. How could a father put that kind of task upon a 4 year old and a 9 year old?

  14. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    Like Southern gothic literature Davis Grubb’s novel is a tale of greed, murder, sex and deceit: A preacher , who is a serial killer,is arrested for stealing a car. Later on he finds out that his cellmate, who will be hanged, has hidden 10, 000 dollars and only his two children know the location. When the preacher is released he sets on his mission to find the money even if it means killing anything that stands in his way. The book is great. There’s a creepy, eerie vibe and quite a few weird momen Like Southern gothic literature Davis Grubb’s novel is a tale of greed, murder, sex and deceit: A preacher , who is a serial killer,is arrested for stealing a car. Later on he finds out that his cellmate, who will be hanged, has hidden 10, 000 dollars and only his two children know the location. When the preacher is released he sets on his mission to find the money even if it means killing anything that stands in his way. The book is great. There’s a creepy, eerie vibe and quite a few weird moments, like the cellmate’s widow announcing her sins while naked in front of a mirror. Or the preacher going to burlesque shows and fondling his knife as he is both angry and aroused at so much flesh. Not to mention the ending, which is basically one of the children narrating the final events, in which he thinks he is dreaming. As with all most southern gothic novels, there are passages which describe the south: one character speaks about garfish, some descriptions about the marshland, Grubb goes as far to describe a typical steamboat ride down the Mississippi. The Night of the Hunter is a thrilling novel that encapsulates suspense from it’s beginning to the final paragraph.

  15. 5 out of 5

    S.P. Aruna

    Oh no, another heavy-duty novel, just after reading Song of Solomon Set in rural West Virginia towns on the Ohio River during the Great Depression, it tells of a murderous rogue 'preacher' who learns of a fortune stolen from a bank by a man he encounters in prison. Upon his release, he sets out to seduce the hanged man’s widow, and ends up pursuing her two children down the Ohio River as he suspects the older child, a 10-year old boy, knows where his father hid the money. [In this age of the inter Oh no, another heavy-duty novel, just after reading Song of Solomon Set in rural West Virginia towns on the Ohio River during the Great Depression, it tells of a murderous rogue 'preacher' who learns of a fortune stolen from a bank by a man he encounters in prison. Upon his release, he sets out to seduce the hanged man’s widow, and ends up pursuing her two children down the Ohio River as he suspects the older child, a 10-year old boy, knows where his father hid the money. [In this age of the internet, you can easily find out the evil "preacher," Harry Powell, was based loosely on Harry Powers, who was hanged in 1932 for the murders of two widows and three children, the serial killer having prowled close to the hometown of the author, [author:Davis Grubb|202192] ] The novel's style is earthy and visceral, although many of the country similes didn't work for me (as neat as snapping a tick off a redbone's ear). There is a bold move of omitting quotation marks, which might seem pretentious, but it actually works well in this book. It also seems the author hates commas, until I realized what he was doing - making the prose flow like a slow-moving relentless river. This mostly occurs in part three where the children float down the river in a small boat, but it first appears in part two, again, in reference to the river: It is as if that mighty stream were the vast, alluvial artery of the land itself so that when the towns grow weary of snows and harsh fogs the great heart pumps green spring blood down the valley and the banks are warmed and nourished by it and soon the whole environing earth blossoms despite itself and the land comes alive and lambs caper and bleat upon the hillside paths. Here's another example when the children are in the boat floating downriver: All the long hot day after their escape they had drifted upon the swift river channel and then the river dropped abruptly upon them and there were no lights but the stars and the shantyboat lamps along the shore and the drifting dust of fireflies against the black looming hills above the narrows. Whew, have to catch my breath! The Night of the Hunter is a thriller, horror story, moral drama, even a gruesome fairy tale. Miz Cooper, the old lady who takes stray kids into her house, is an unforgettable and an unlikely yet formidable foe of the evil serial killer. Graphic descriptions of the haunted, poverty-pocked landscape of the Ohio River abound. The conditions depicted in rural West Virginia during this time were so miserable, even to the point of dystopia. Roaming bands of starving children appear all along the river. Yet we don't meet any African-Americans, which surprised me, as I assume they formed a sizable chunk of the rural population in WV. I wondered how they themselves were faring along - about the same? i.e. was the Great Depression a great leveler as well, casting everyone into wretchedness? (perhaps I should read The Color Purple or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings one of these days). The last 20 pages ends up in babbling thoughts of Miz Cooper and John, totally uneccessary and should have been cut out. Otherwise, a unique read.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Michele

    Gripping, horrifying, suspenseful, this is a book that's very hard to put down. The main characters -- John and his sister Pearl, their mother Willa, and Preacher -- really drew me in; they're realistic and believable, and elicited strong emotions ranging from deep sympathy to deep disgust/fear. John's growing isolation and fear, and particularly his inability to find an adult who will believe him/help him, are like one of those nightmares where you're screaming but nobody hears you. There's one Gripping, horrifying, suspenseful, this is a book that's very hard to put down. The main characters -- John and his sister Pearl, their mother Willa, and Preacher -- really drew me in; they're realistic and believable, and elicited strong emotions ranging from deep sympathy to deep disgust/fear. John's growing isolation and fear, and particularly his inability to find an adult who will believe him/help him, are like one of those nightmares where you're screaming but nobody hears you. There's one scene where John sees Preacher in the distance on a horse that I found really creepy -- it had an epic/mythic sort of feel, like Preacher is a force of nature or a demon, not a man. The secondary characters are also well done and believable, especially the kind-hearted Rachel and the nosey-parker busybody Icey. Done by a lesser author they might have just been "types" but Grubb does a good job making them feel real (for example, Icey's relationship with her husband or Rachel's visit to her son and daughter-in-law). Ruby is perhaps the most pathetic character, so desperate for love. I'm in awe of the author's command of language, so spare and yet so lyrical; parts of it read almost like poetry: "They followed him, the picnic basket in his hand, and in Peacock Alley it was spring and the warped mossy bricks of the pavement were covered with little green wings from the silver maples and they crunched under their feet and the air was blue and green and yellow with little broken soft pieces of sun that blew on the river wind." Then there is the achingly slow buildup of suspense, the precision with which information is doled out drop by drop. The pacing is perfect; the tension builds slowly, leisurely, so that you don't quite realize how bad things are until suddenly they are truly awful indeed. The night scene at Rachel's house, is absolutely terrifying, especially since I came at the book "cold" and had no idea whatsoever how it was all going to play out. All in all, an excellent read. (I hear there's a movie, but I haven't seen it.)

  17. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    “Hate! roared Preacher” – and here we are in one of the darkest southern gothic nightmares of them all, pursued by the most persistent and terrifying of villains with just one thing on his mind: “Where’s the money hid?” The Night of the Hunter is an extraordinarily atmospheric novel that succeeds in treading a fine line between the melodramatic and the sentimental, between the otherworldliness of folktale and the grim reality of West Virginia during the depression years. The boy John, bound by s “Hate! roared Preacher” – and here we are in one of the darkest southern gothic nightmares of them all, pursued by the most persistent and terrifying of villains with just one thing on his mind: “Where’s the money hid?” The Night of the Hunter is an extraordinarily atmospheric novel that succeeds in treading a fine line between the melodramatic and the sentimental, between the otherworldliness of folktale and the grim reality of West Virginia during the depression years. The boy John, bound by strong oaths not to tell where his hanged daddy hid his stolen cash, finds his mother turned against him, the Preacher in his father’s place, his little sister in his care, and himself in a bad, bad dream. The Ohio River runs through the book, with its cargo of myths, its promise of freedom, and its deep dark places of horror. And, like the river, there is a human stream of gullibility, hypocrisy, and religious dementia. Amazing stuff – and Davis Grubb is wonderfully in control of it all, only faltering in the last couple of dozen pages which offer us some cheap sentiment and a hasty re-establishment of the conservative status quo as an improbable and disposable finale. No matter. The film’s good, but this is better. An underrated classic.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kay

    Wow, this one will really give you the willies. Two young children are hunted down by a psychopathic killer -- who also just so happens to be a posing as a preacher. Lots of dark, warped psychology at work here, and oodles of atmosphere in evoking the small West Virginia town setting. This one will haunt you -- the psychopath is one of the most terrifying characters in literature, but equally vivid is the portrayal of ten-year-old John, one of the two children. Of course, a famous film starring Wow, this one will really give you the willies. Two young children are hunted down by a psychopathic killer -- who also just so happens to be a posing as a preacher. Lots of dark, warped psychology at work here, and oodles of atmosphere in evoking the small West Virginia town setting. This one will haunt you -- the psychopath is one of the most terrifying characters in literature, but equally vivid is the portrayal of ten-year-old John, one of the two children. Of course, a famous film starring Robert Mitchum was based on the novel, but I can't imagine that it's any more gripping or disturbing than the novel. (I haven't seen the film yet, but I suspect that many more people have seen it than read the novel.)

  19. 4 out of 5

    Traci

    This is the source of one of my absolute favorite movies. I was unaware that it was a novel or I would have read it much sooner. A husband and father due to be executed for murder and robbery takes the location of the stolen money with him. A self styled preacher in the same cell tries to get the information from him and when he fails he goes after the man's wife and two small children. Both book and movie have great atmosphere. Creepy and stylish. A thriller with a slash of horror. Read the book, This is the source of one of my absolute favorite movies. I was unaware that it was a novel or I would have read it much sooner. A husband and father due to be executed for murder and robbery takes the location of the stolen money with him. A self styled preacher in the same cell tries to get the information from him and when he fails he goes after the man's wife and two small children. Both book and movie have great atmosphere. Creepy and stylish. A thriller with a slash of horror. Read the book, it's short and easy. Watch the movie, Robert Mitchum at his best.

  20. 4 out of 5

    RJ from the LBC

    Based on the true story of Harry Powers and his 1932 crimes in WV, there's a 10 year old boy, his 4 year old sister, and a murderous ex-con preacher whose lives collide and entangle over $10,000 of missing robbery money. Soaked in Southern Gothic imagery, the tension builds and builds to the inevitable final confrontation. The film version is the only film to have been directed by the great Charles Laughton and has been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Based on the true story of Harry Powers and his 1932 crimes in WV, there's a 10 year old boy, his 4 year old sister, and a murderous ex-con preacher whose lives collide and entangle over $10,000 of missing robbery money. Soaked in Southern Gothic imagery, the tension builds and builds to the inevitable final confrontation. The film version is the only film to have been directed by the great Charles Laughton and has been selected for preservation in the National Film Registry.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ben Loory

    it's basically the movie, only instead of all the beautiful, stark & sparkling B&W photography, it's mired in a kind of dense brown Faulknerian ooze it's basically the movie, only instead of all the beautiful, stark & sparkling B&W photography, it's mired in a kind of dense brown Faulknerian ooze

  22. 4 out of 5

    Franky

    Based on the true case of serial killer Harry Powers (“The Bluebeard of Quiet Dell”), The Night of the Hunter depicts one boy’s struggle against evil. Davis Grubb writes in such a smooth way, easy to read but with a poetic, symbolic prose. Handled differently, Grubb’s The Night of the Hunter could have been just “shock lit” material which concentrates on a serial killer’s story. However, Grubb makes John and Pearl’s fate the focus; he engages your interest, and makes you invested in the two chil Based on the true case of serial killer Harry Powers (“The Bluebeard of Quiet Dell”), The Night of the Hunter depicts one boy’s struggle against evil. Davis Grubb writes in such a smooth way, easy to read but with a poetic, symbolic prose. Handled differently, Grubb’s The Night of the Hunter could have been just “shock lit” material which concentrates on a serial killer’s story. However, Grubb makes John and Pearl’s fate the focus; he engages your interest, and makes you invested in the two children, especially as John battles Preacher Harry Powell. Taking the narrative from John’s view, we get into his mind and thoughts as he confronts Preacher. John, seemingly the only one who can look through Preacher, sees him for what he is: a venomous and pathological criminal. Preacher has to be one of literature’s most despicable and loathsome characters. He gets under your skin. He comes into the Harper’s world and breaks up their sense of home, brainwashing and manipulating Willa, and presenting a façade of southern gentility and religious fervor to Southern folk like the Spoons. Underneath the sermonizing and fire and brimstone is a hypocrite whose greed knows no bounds. As Preacher goes on a quest to track down and terrorize the two young Harpers, John and Pearl, Grubb characterizes the antagonist’s sinister nature: “But these men, who had seen and understood this loving kindness and mercy in the faces and voices of their good wives, saw none of this in the face of the Preacher; saw instead the dry-toothed cunning of the hound on the hunt.” In another sense, The Night of the Hunter explores the nature of good versus evil forces in the world, the faithful versus the rotten. John’s oath to his doomed father seals his transition boy to man, and he endures life’s rottenness, family tragedy and loss of innocence to reestablish that sense of home. One of the novel’s hero’s, Rachel Cooper, is the antithesis of Preacher, a saving grace for the children, a protector, with a heart of gold but a sternness to hold her own against the world’s ugliness. Written as a dark Southern Gothic, Grubb’s The Night of the Hunter is a remarkable work, lyrical in its prose and one that leaves a last impression. It is as moving as it is disturbing.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tom Mathews

    I have wanted to read this book for many years since seeing Robert Mitchum play one of the most bone-chillingly awesome villains in the history of film in Charles Laughton's directorial debut (and finale). The diabolical preacher who seduces the widow of his former cellmate and torments her children in order to secure money stolen in a fateful robbery is truly the stuff of nightmares. We often doubt that a movie will be as good as the book but in this case I was worried that Mitchum's brilliance I have wanted to read this book for many years since seeing Robert Mitchum play one of the most bone-chillingly awesome villains in the history of film in Charles Laughton's directorial debut (and finale). The diabolical preacher who seduces the widow of his former cellmate and torments her children in order to secure money stolen in a fateful robbery is truly the stuff of nightmares. We often doubt that a movie will be as good as the book but in this case I was worried that Mitchum's brilliance may have turned an otherwise forgettable yarn into something memorable. I needn't have worried. Based on a true story that happened in Davis Grubb's hometown of Mound City, West Virginia, the novel is the best thriller that I have read in years, and it's all the better for being almost true. I highly recommend it.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    The Night of the Hunter [1953] – ★★★★★ The Night of the Hunter is best known as a film of 1955 by Charles Laughton, but it was first a great book by Davis Grubb, who based his story on a true case of serial killer Harry Powers, a deranged psychopath who preyed on and killed lonely widows in the late 1920s. In the book by Davis Grubb, Willa Harper is a recently widowed mother of two whose husband, Ben Harper, has recently been convicted and executed for killing two men in armed robbery. After the The Night of the Hunter [1953] – ★★★★★ The Night of the Hunter is best known as a film of 1955 by Charles Laughton, but it was first a great book by Davis Grubb, who based his story on a true case of serial killer Harry Powers, a deranged psychopath who preyed on and killed lonely widows in the late 1920s. In the book by Davis Grubb, Willa Harper is a recently widowed mother of two whose husband, Ben Harper, has recently been convicted and executed for killing two men in armed robbery. After the execution, Willa and her two children, John and Pearl, are the centre of sympathy in their community until their “salvation” arrives in the form of Harry Powell or “Preacher”. Preacher knows that Ben Harper disclosed to his children before his execution the location of ten thousand dollars he gained through robbery, and Preacher will use any means – kindness or more disturbing pressure to discover the location of the money. It is safe to say now that The Night of the Hunter was unjustly overshadowed by its cinematic counterpart. American writer Julia Keller called Davis Grubb’s book a “lost masterpiece”, and there is truth in that. The Night of the Hunter is a chilling, unforgettable tale of crime and evil set in the background of a Depression-hit community on a riverbank in West Virginia. The novel is suspenseful and thrilling, with great characterisations and an eerie atmosphere. It is convenient now to talk of The Night of the Hunter as the book that resulted in a great movie, but that comparison does little to shed light on literary quality of the original source. The Night of the Hunter is not read like some kind of a screenplay (as most Stephen King books do), but a novel of literary merit with a convincing character study at the heart of it and insights into child psychology. Davis Grubb sets the books in West Virginia during the Great Depression and the times are hard for everyone on land: “….It was Hard Times in the land and larders held precious little extra for roadside wanderers” [Grubb, 1953: 188], and the author also uses evocative language to transport the reader to that time and place where uncertainty and fears about future and strangers ruled alongside American hospitality and friendliness. When Willa Harper loses her husband, she harbours hopes that she can yet find domestic bliss, and when Harry Powell arrives, it seems like calmness, security – man of God also entered her household. The only thing is that behind the vision of friendliness and stability lies something dark, cunning and merciless. Grubb makes these points across while referring to the immediate environment of the characters, hinting that appearances may be deceiving, and calm waters may not be what they appear to be: “The river was too beguiling and treacherous in her female moods of gently passing shadows and strange voices floating crystal-sharp across the ripples and lights passing like fallen stars among the dark, distant trees” [Grubb, 1953: 187]. To instil a sense of horror, Davis Grubb relies on atmosphere, general eeriness and the persistent sense of danger, rather than on explicit scenes. When reading the novel, there is a feeling that danger is ever present all around, lurking somewhere very close and waiting to strike. The horror is almost subtle, and it helps that children are involved since few great effective horror stories can bypass children (for example, see Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw). The sense of horror comes from one charismatic character – Harry Powell – The “Preacher”. When his character comes to the scene in the very first chapter when he talks to Ben Harper in prison, there emerges one terrifying image of a man so psychopathic and ruthless it will be the substance of everyone’s nightmare. One of the most disturbing aspects of Powell’s personality is that he can present the appearance of normality, decency and respectability, and he relies on his own twisted logic and reason (including the word of God) to justify his every action. There are two sides to Powell’s external presentation, just like his tattooed fingers, one arm spelling L-O-V-E and another – H-A-T-E. When Powell gets the hint from doomed Harper than his children may know where their father hid the money, Powell finds himself released from prison and gets close to Harper’s widow, trying to make friends with Harper’s children. Will the children be able to see through “Preacher”‘s fake smiles and friendliness, not disclose their father’s secret, and finally make their escape? The deadly game begins. The book is cleverer, deeper and more effective than it appears at first. At the start, we do not know the whole story or even where Ben Harper hid the money he stole, and find out everything in the most suspenseful way. Grubb also makes it possible for us to see the frightening situation emerging through different points of view. The author writes either “John thought:” or “she thought” and then outlines the feelings, the doubts and the fears of the characters. In that way, explicit violence is toned down in favour of more psychological horror as John becomes increasingly suspicious of his mother’s new suitor, while his little sister Pearls becomes friends with her “new father”. Many tense moments occur, and there are memory flashes and vague premonition experienced by the characters: “Something – the figure of a man – wandered in and out among the trees of her consciousness, through the white, blurring fog upon her mind’s shores. Now it was the shape of a lover and now something else – something frightful beyond telling – something with the body of a child in its arms” [Grubb, 1953: 86]. The story becomes even more convincingly horrifying since there is an effective use of repetition and place claustrophobia: -“But Preacher would never use that knife on Ben. Preacher wants something from Ben. Preacher wants to know about that money…Now Preacher comes back and stands by Ben’s bunk” [Grubb, 1953: 16], and there is a sense of despair and isolation since John has very few if any neighbours or friends to turn to or rely on for help. The Night of the Hunter is a rather “cinematic” novel, but it should also proudly stand alone as an effective literary creation in its own right. The book is enigmatic, claustrophobic and suspenseful. It is a fine southern noir classic which should have more visibility and recognition.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kirk Smith

    This book has Everything I look for in a book! I like Noire, Southern Gothic, and books about the Depression. Fits all that, and satisfies me. Best book I've read this year. Oh, and loosely based on an actual murderer/criminal. Robert Mitchum might have ruined it with his movie, but this book is a peach! This book has Everything I look for in a book! I like Noire, Southern Gothic, and books about the Depression. Fits all that, and satisfies me. Best book I've read this year. Oh, and loosely based on an actual murderer/criminal. Robert Mitchum might have ruined it with his movie, but this book is a peach!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Harry Powell, the widow-killing antagonist of Davis Grubb's West Virginia-set Night of the Hunter, was based on the real-life serial-killer Harry F. Powers who operated from his small home, Quiet Dell, near a West Virginia hamlet where he lived with his wife Luella, posing as a "wealthy widower" in lonely-hearts columns. In 1931 it would become known in the media as the "murder farm" when the bodies of Asta Eicher, 50, a Chicago widow and her three children (Greta, 14; Harry, 12, and Anabel, 9) Harry Powell, the widow-killing antagonist of Davis Grubb's West Virginia-set Night of the Hunter, was based on the real-life serial-killer Harry F. Powers who operated from his small home, Quiet Dell, near a West Virginia hamlet where he lived with his wife Luella, posing as a "wealthy widower" in lonely-hearts columns. In 1931 it would become known in the media as the "murder farm" when the bodies of Asta Eicher, 50, a Chicago widow and her three children (Greta, 14; Harry, 12, and Anabel, 9) were unearthed in the grounds of Power's garden and garage during the investigation into their disappearance. Eicher, who struggled to raise her three children, had responded to an "American Friendship" ad which read "Wealthy widower worth $150,000. Has income from $400 to $2,000 a month." After the family went missing a series of love letters led the police to Powers home where the bodies of the mother and children had been buried in shallow graves. The body of another woman was discovered in the garage, Dorothy Lemke, a 50 year old divorcée from Northboro, Mass who had gone missing around the same time. Although Powers only ever confessed to the five murders, there was a strong suspicion that he killed before, and a search of his home yielded a trunk-load of correspondence from more than 100 love-starved widows and spinsters from all over the country suggesting that he had been operating as a love racketeer for more than a decade. In 1932 Powers was convicted of his crimes and sentenced to death by hanging. There are numerous similarities with Harry Powell of Night of the Hunter, most obviously his name, that he operates in West Virginia, and that he preys on lonely widows, but Davis Grubb's protanist is not solely motivated by money. Instead he is compelled by what he believes to be the word of God to take the lives of sinners, specifically lustful widows (the money is further motivation). In this aspect the character is firmly routed in the Southern Gothic tradition in its use of irony to examine the character of the rural South. Powell - who has love and hate tattooed on the knuckles of his hands - claims to be an agent of love but is in fact the complete opposite. The book also includes some wonderful descriptions of the Ohio Valley, where the majority of the book takes place: "In the Ohio Valley it is the river that gives and takes the seasons. It is as if that mighty stream were the vast, alluvial artery of the land itself so that when the towns grow weary of snows and harsh fogs the great heart pumps green spring blood down the valley and the banks are warmed and nourished by it and soon the whole environing earth blossoms despite itself and the air comes alive and lambs caper and bleat upon the hillside paths. And so now it was the prime of spring in the bottomlands. Soon the redbone hound would kelt in the creek hollows on nights when the moon was a curl of golden hair against the shoulder of the Ohio hills. Soon the shantyboat people would join their fiddle and mouth-harp racket to the chorus of green frogs down under the mists in the moonlit willows." I took great relish in reading this book. Despite its pulpy subject matter it's very well written, it moves at a lightning pace, with some truly nail-biting sequences in which the serial-killer pursues the children in an unrelenting almost Terminator-like manner down the Ohio River, and the character of Harry Powell is a wonderfully horrific creation. I re-watched the 1955 Charles Laughton-directed Robert Mitchum film adaptation after finishing the book (I've not seen it in ten years). It still holds up as a great, truely unique film in its appliance of an expressionist style to a rural setting, and although the book doesn't have the surrealism of Charles Laughton's vision it's a shame that it has been overshadowed by the growing reputation of the film over the years. Most of the films dialouge is lifted straight from the page, and it's to Grubb's credit that he created such a believable monster. Text taken from my aborted project to read 50 books set in 50 states in 50 weeks.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Stuart

    Davis Grubb was a brilliant writer, uneven in the way that only brilliant writers who never become particularly famous can be. This was his most impeccable work: and Charles Laughton made an impeccable movie out of it. How come nobody talks about Davis Grubb anymore? Did anyone ever talk about Davis Grubb?

  28. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Perfect vintage read. The intensity was spot on. Nothing I didn't love about it. Highly recommend. Perfect vintage read. The intensity was spot on. Nothing I didn't love about it. Highly recommend.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    "The golden June morning quivered like water in the new leaves of the grape arbor. Pearl squatted with the doll Jenny and the doll was Willa now and the tomato stake with the rag wrapped around it: that was Mister Powell. Pearl stood them side by side against the bricks at the bottom of the arbor and sang a song because Willa and Mr. Powell were married and they had returned from the honeycomb. Now the scissors from the pantry flashed in her fingers as she cut out the green paper faces. These we "The golden June morning quivered like water in the new leaves of the grape arbor. Pearl squatted with the doll Jenny and the doll was Willa now and the tomato stake with the rag wrapped around it: that was Mister Powell. Pearl stood them side by side against the bricks at the bottom of the arbor and sang a song because Willa and Mr. Powell were married and they had returned from the honeycomb. Now the scissors from the pantry flashed in her fingers as she cut out the green paper faces. These were the two children and she was a patient mother because, when the wind blew, those mischievous children would try to run away." pg. 108 "And in the shadow of a branch beneath the moon a child sees a tiger and the old ones say: There is no tiger! Go to sleep! And when they sleep it is a tiger's sleep and a tiger's night and a tiger's breathing at the midnight pane. Lord save little children! For each of them has his Preacher to hound him down the dark river of fear and tonguelessness and never-a-door...Lord save the little children! They abide and they endure." pg. 268 Stunning book - the language is hypnotic, the plot horrifying, and John and Pearl rival Jem and Scout as the best-rendered children in 20th century fiction. An overlooked gem.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Jana

    #MMBOOK2FILMCLUB First book In the Memento Mori book to film club. A year of reading & watching. Looking forward to this! UPDATE: Read this in 2 days. That says something for this slow reader. It says I was riveted and it is a page turner. I hadn't even heard of the movie before, so obviously hadn't heard of the book as it is not nearly as well known as it's cinematic adaptation. This was written in 1955, but set in The Depression. I'm always intrigued by those who pretend to be religious, but are #MMBOOK2FILMCLUB First book In the Memento Mori book to film club. A year of reading & watching. Looking forward to this! UPDATE: Read this in 2 days. That says something for this slow reader. It says I was riveted and it is a page turner. I hadn't even heard of the movie before, so obviously hadn't heard of the book as it is not nearly as well known as it's cinematic adaptation. This was written in 1955, but set in The Depression. I'm always intrigued by those who pretend to be religious, but are anything but. Bad, bad Preacher. Desperate times. Nail biter. Resilient kids (although I was a little frustrated by one persistent part of the story. C'mon John! Can't you hear me telling you the obvious from 63 years in your future???!!!). Also noticeable right away is the lack of quotation marks. Maybe I'm the only one who thought this was a recent trend. It didn't bother me at all, but just something I observed. And now, on to the movie!

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