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The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb

The Night of the Hunter (1953)

by Davis Grubb

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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
Although this is a review of the book Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb, I can’t help but write about the 1955 movie that was made of this book. Robert Mitchum gave a chilling and haunting performance of the religious fanatic and malicious killer who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. This movie stayed very close to the book, and I certainly pictured Robert Mitchum throughout the read.

Posing as a prison chaplain, Harry Powell comes to the family after husband and father Ben Harper has been hung for robbery and murder. He is convinced that Ben told someone in the family where the bank money was hidden. He charms the widow and marries her but all too soon his attention turns to the children who he discovers know where the money is hidden.

Unfolding like a parable of good against evil, the tension mounts, the atmosphere gets darker and darker and the reader is in constant fear for these children. The story takes place in the 1930’s, a dark time in America which suits this story perfectly. The author uses this backdrop as he sets the children on the run with a monster trailing them.

This noir thriller really took a hold of me and I was totally captivated. The author’s almost biblical prose, the shadowed atmosphere, and the deliberate characterizations make this “lambs being hunted by a wolf” story creepy, stylish and a great read. ( )
  DeltaQueen50 | Jun 25, 2017 |
I read this book a long time ago and thought it was excellent. I believe it stands the test of time. I also so the movie starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters. A TV version was made in the 80s I believe, it wasn't bad, but not as good as the first movie. ( )
1 vote Judy_Ryfinski | Jan 20, 2016 |
I read this book a long time ago and thought it was excellent. I believe it stands the test of time. I also so the movie starring Robert Mitchum and Shelley Winters. A TV version was made in the 80s I believe, it wasn't bad, but not as good as the first movie. ( )
1 vote Judy_Ryfinski | Jan 20, 2016 |
For those of us who are old enough to remember (and perhaps for a few of you young'uns as well) this novel was made into a film directed by Charles Laughton in the 1950's, with Robert Mitchum giving a breathtakingly terrifying performance as Preacher. What I didn't know when I saw the film, and not until AFTER I finished the novel, was that the story was "inspired"? by a real life 'Bluebeard' killer of widows.

Quick summary:
During the Great Depression, Ben Harper, arrested for a bank robbery and murder, awaits execution in a cell with Harry Powell who, unbeknownst to authorities, is a serial killer of widows. Ben has hidden the loot from the bank robbery He refuses to reveal the whereabouts of the money to officials--even though doing so might spare his life Only his children, John, nine, and Pearl, four, know where he secreted the cash Before being apprehended, he secures their promise to divulge the secret to no one. John takes his pledge to heart. That Ben did not reveal the hiding place to Willa causes her wrenching anxiety and even greater suffering later. In prison, Preacher relentlessly inveigles Ben for the whereabouts, but Ben goes to the gallows with his secret. Afterwards, Preacher finds his way to Ben's home. He wins over Willa, Pearl, and friends, the friends encouraging her to marry him, which she does. John, however, resists, because in the first minutes of meeting, he understands what Preacher really wants and Preacher discerns John knows where the money is hidden. Employing devious and psychologically damaging tactics, Preacher hounds and persecutes John, stealing away the boy's and Pearl's mother, turning the family's friends against John. Finally, fearful and seeing no alternative, John flees with Pearl. Preacher pursues them, obsessed by the money. John and Pearl live as feral children, until they end up in the yard of Rachel Cooper, who proves to be more than a match for Preacher.

The first thing one should know before starting this book is that no quotation marks are used to signal dialogue, so it does take just a bit more concentration when reading, but after 20 pages or so, one gets used to it. This embeds the character's words into the general narrative and in the end proves quite effective.

Another unorthodox element of Grubs' style is the minimal use of commas. It is amazing how the author can write extremely long sentences, sometimes encompassing a whole paragraph, constructed with a string of phrases and clauses that move unhesitating to its end. Again, this requires some extra effort on the part of the reader because if one pauses too long the continuity of the sentence can be broken, and may require a re-read. This gives the writing a flowing attribute, and I'm tempted to think this is somehow connected to the Ohio River, which is foremost in the setting throughout the whole book. Sweeping, yet bleak portraits of river life
are an integral part of the reading experience.

The suspense at the end is intense and in fact, scarey
The perspective of John is much better in the novel than in the film,and he was by far the most sympathetic character. 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.

Finally, some things I didn't feel comfortable with. I had a problem with Preacher's character. He actually believes God talks to him? This implies psychosis yet in other respects he is clearly sane, although he just as clearly has a personality disorder (sociopath/psychopath). For me this is somewhat of a flaw in character development on Grub's part. Insanity, e.g. voices in his head, is not what drives his actions, but rather greed, selfishness, lack of conscience are the factors in his ruthless behavior.

His aversion to women and to sex in general also begs explanation (most psychopaths have over-active sex drives). There's no indication that Preacher preferred men. This asexual personality is hard for me to accept.

It is also not clear why Ben did not want to tell his wife, but only his children where he hid the money and made them promise not to tell their mother.

The above criticisms are the reason I did not give it 5 stars (although I was tempted to overlook them).
But I'll say this: there are few books, even among those that I love, that I am motivated to re-read. This might be one of them.

( )
1 vote BBcummings | Dec 24, 2014 |
I have to thank NPR for recommending this recently. The writing is sort of Cormac McCarthy Light. The story is fast-paced and gripping with suspense, as John and Pearl try to escape the clutches of their hunter. The book takes place along the banks of the Ohio river. I was rooting for Uncle Birdie to come through in the end. ( )
1 vote Bradley_Kramer | May 15, 2014 |
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Wilt thou forgive that sinne by which I'have wonne
Others to sinne? and, made by sinne their door?

John Donne
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A child's hand and a piece of chalk had made it
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140044264, Paperback)

Inspired by serial killer Harry Powers, "The Bluebeard of Quiet Dell," who was hung in 1932 for his murders of two widows and three children. This best-selling novel, first published in 1953 to wide acclaim by author Grubb, (who like Powers lived in Clarksburg, West Virginia), served as the basis for Charles Laughton's noir classic . Renamed "Harry Powell," the lead character in this book, with LOVE and HATE tattooed on his fingers, is remembered as one of the creepiest men in book and cinema history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:05:22 -0400)

"When Ben Harper goes to the gallows for a bank robbery killing, he leaves his young children John and Pearl to hide the $10,000 that is his share. Then a strange preacher shows up who wants that money.

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