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The Night of the Hunter (1953)

by Davis Grubb

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4411156,947 (3.97)52
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 sto≤ 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… (more)
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The Night of the Hunter by Davis Grubb is a 1953 publication.

I’ve seen the movie, which was adapted from this book, starring Robert Mitcham, who did an incredible job with the role of “Preacher”. It is yet another situation in which I’d seen the movie, but somehow never got around to reading the book, despite considering it countless times.

Naturally, I’m already familiar with the plot. A con man/ serial killer is stalking John and his little sister Pearl, because they know where a nice stash of stolen money is hidden. The Preacher insinuates himself into the children’s lives by marrying their mother, who accepts his proposal under the guise of providing a father to her children. From there a terrifying game of cat and mouse ensues, as the Preacher menacingly pressures poor John relentlessly, while his mother remains clueless about her new husband’s true motives….

It seems the book was well represented on the big screen as it appears, to the best of my recollection, it remained faithful to the book, with only a few differences. Was the book better than the movie? Well, in this case I’d say they were both very good, which is rare. I did think I got more insight into some of the characters’ actions and attitudes, like the way John behaved in Rachel’s care- which was a bit of a mystery to me- but made more sense after reading this book.

Overall, this a very chilling story of serial killer moving amongst people under the guise of being a man of God. It is also a story of hope for John and Pearl who are freed from the evil and danger that lurked around every corner, and land in a wonderful, stable, loving environment.

4.5 stars ( )
  gpangel | Aug 29, 2023 |
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. ( )
  mattorsara | Aug 11, 2022 |
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 |
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Epigraph
Wilt thou forgive that sinne by which I'have wonne
Others to sinne? and, made by sinne their door?

John Donne
Dedication
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A child's hand and a piece of chalk had made it
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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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 told anyone where he hid the ten thousand dollars he sto≤ 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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