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Church of Dead Girls
Stephen Dobyns
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Church of Dead Girls

3.64  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,923 Ratings  ·  218 Reviews
A literary chameleon, Stephen Dobyns is as well known for his poetry as he his for his taut and chilling mysteries. The two disciplines collide in The Church of Dead Girls, a lyrical novel that inspired Stephen King to comment, "If ever there was a tale for a moonless night, a high wind and a creaking floor, this is it ... I don't expect to read a more frightening novel th ...more
Published 1997 by Holt Metropolitan
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This is how they looked: three dead girls propped up in three straight chairs.

The suspicion didn't just go away. It just slipped back to wherever it hid.
Wow. What a meaty and cerebral read -- textured, layered, nuanced. It is a quiet novel that takes its time to carefully contemplate on its subject. And what is its subject? Despite the title, not the disappearance and death of three young girls, not really. Solving the crime, locating the victims, is secondary to the examination of a small to
This book started out building slowly after an end scene intro of the victims. It is basically a psychological thriller with a touch of horror. It was a good read that tugged me along. The author has a good understanding of small town life and mixes humor into the prose surreptitiously. It has a dark, ironic tinge to it that anyone that has spent any time in a rural town will recognize as truth in a tongue and cheek manner.
This strength is at times a weakness as his character development tends
This is an underrated gem of a novel by a little known author.

The classic theme of a murder in a small, quiet town has been done in decades by authors of many mysteries and thrillers. Those who approach The Church of Dead Girls with hope of discovering a fast-paced, nailbiting murder mystery will be most likely disappointed, because it's anything but. For all the better.

The victims, three dead girls are discovered in the first chapter; the book opens with the conclusion, though the who murdered
David H.
Nov 27, 2009 David H. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In the past, I would find an author that I liked and then read nothing but their works until I was saturated. These days, I have decided to read as many different authors as possible. I found this paperback in one of my father's bookshelves. I had never heard of Stephen Dobyns, but I am hardly any kind of expert on literature. The Title, " The Church Of Dead Girls" seemed dark and preverse to me (which is my favorite genre). The novel even had an endorsement from Stephen King.. "Very Rich, Very ...more
Jim Thomsen
Jul 08, 2010 Jim Thomsen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"The Church Of Dead Girls" is as perfect as it is unusual. Half cerebral literary fiction and half mystery thriller, this book tells the story of a serial killer targeting preteen girls through the eyes of a nameless narrator who serves as the lens and the conscience of a small-town community in upstate New York.

Dobyns, who developed his ability to create a community with a cast of intriguing dozens in his "Saratoga" mystery series, broadens his palette even as he narrows its focus — Aurelis, N
Nov 23, 2015 Erika rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you don't mind sorting through a million different characters, this is a gem of a read. This is the beginning:

"This is how they looked: three dead girls propped up in three straight chairs."

The pacing is slow, and it kind of builds and builds until the discovery maybe isn't quite as important as discovering how small town mentality bent on justice is just as deadly - anywhere.
Oct 25, 2011 Lou rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This novel is ok but i anticipated more from reading King`s comments its a slow moving story more a cerebal mystery. One by one, three teenage girls are abducted from a small American town. The only trace of them is their clothes returned, washed, ironed and neatly folded. With each disappearance suspicion spreads among the townsfolk,initially falling on anyone 'different' the college Marxist group, the gay community but soon extending to friends and neighbours, even the narrator himself. As pan ...more
Nov 23, 2015 Lobstergirl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Brit Hume

If you can semi-ignore the 180 minor characters and just concentrate on the 60 major ones, you'll have a much easier time reading this intelligent horror novel. Also, accept the fact that the novel will unfold very slowly.

In a small town in upstate New York, a middle-aged woman who happens to be the town slut is murdered and her left hand cut off. Over the following months, three young girls, ages 14 and 13, are abducted. We find out in the novel's opening flash-forward scene that they have been
Matthew Iden
May 17, 2012 Matthew Iden rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Stephen King fans, Twin Peaks fans, psychological mystery on the spooky side
This review of The Church of Dead Girls is a moderately long analysis I did on the book in an attempt to get at why I liked it so much as a reader and how I could emulate the parts that worked as a writer.

As a result, what follows might be a little dry for some readers, since I'm reviewing from an author's perspective. And it's chock full of spoilers. But that shouldn't keep you from running out and grabbing a copy of this imminently creepy, thoughtful, and suspenseful tour de force. If you do,
May 06, 2011 Helen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
Very slowly and deliberately paced, certainly not scary in the more usual 'horror' sense. I found the illustration of how suspicion tears a community apart and insidiously ruins previously long-standing friendships more moving than the actual crimes (though these are indeed creepy) Very well-described characters, and I didn't guess the murderer until the very end.
Jun 13, 2010 Karyl rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After three girls go missing from a small upstate New York town, the town is ripped apart from the effects of suspicion. Where are the girls? Who has abducted them? Are they still alive? Who should be suspected and why?

It's been said that this book is more about the effects of these horrible events on the small town, and less about the murders of the girls. I have to agree with that assessment, but I don't think it was the best choice on the part of the author. I didn't find this book particular
May 06, 2015 Catarina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Um livro soberbo! Nunca esquecerei Aurelius nem os seus habitantes com as suas muitas peculiaridades. De ressalvar a escrita do autor, o livro é bastante descritivo, o que poderia fazer com que se tornasse maçudo mas não é o caso, o autor tem efectivamente o dom da escrita e leva-nos a querer saber tudo e mais alguma coisa, de modo que nos embrenhamos na história e quando cheguei ao fim senti que era capaz de ler outras 450 páginas. Recomendadíssimo, 5 estrelas mais do que merecidas!
Brian Hodges
This book started off amazingly. It's all about how a string of murders rips a small town apart as everyone begins accusing the wrong people. As the product of a small town I could totally see the people I knew growing up in this exact setting. Unfortunately it fell off toward the end simply because the revelation of the actual killer was never going to live up to all the intrigue and suspense that had been built up over the course of the book.
NO major spoilers here, if you've read the back cover or publisher's synopsis.


This is NOT an FBI procedural thriller, a cozy mystery, or a King/Koontz wackfest. This is small town, slow-burn intrigue with multiple crimes, and enough suspects to keep you busy. Dobyns writing here reminds me of a typical Greg Iles novel.

The main victims here are 3 girls, as you know from the synopsis -- but the book is about more than that. It's also important to note that this book was published ~1997,
Nov 30, 2008 Eric_W rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Dobyns is better known, perhaps, for his wonderful and hilarious “Saratoga” mystery series featuring private eye Charlie Bradshaw. This is more serious in its implications and genre. A promiscuous woman is murdered, mother of Aaron McNeal, a troubled youth, who is involved with the IIR, Investigations Into the Right, a reading group formed by a new professor at Aurelius College, in the small town of Aurelius. The professor immediately alienates himself from the community by driving a red Citroen ...more
Aug 17, 2011 Bandit rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I was reading this book, I kept thinking this was a five star read. The writing style is so great, rich, detailed, truly immersing...this really is a literary novel with a mystery undercurrent. And, as far as the mystery aspect of it goes, I didn't figure out the killer till the very end. However, upon reading the whole book and pondering it for a few days, I subtracted two stars from my original estimate based on two things. #1 - despite a menagerie of well drawn out characters, there are no ...more
Jan 11, 2013 Bojana rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very, very satisfying read. A tense thriller exploring the human nature in a time of crisis, specifically human nature in small communities.
Little girls start to disappear in the small town of Aurelius, and soon after, all eyes are on the more peculiar townies. First, the gay, the single, the foreign man get singled out, than, as things get more desperate, everyone becomes a suspect. No ones secrets are safe, and since there is a dark side to the best of us, the towns dirty laundry soon comes
I had read--or perhaps listened to--this book when it first came out in 1997. When I saw a new recording, I was glad to reread it. Unfortunately, I had confused it in my memory with A Maiden's Grave from 1995, Jeffrey Deaver's last standalone before he embarked on the Lincoln Rhyme series. That's a hostage situation with a lot more going on, so I was a little disappointed, but this is a good read/listen of a different sort. There's a crime here in a small upstate New York town: 3 girls have gone ...more
Angel Elizabeth
Some of the writing was good, but overall, I felt like it moved at a glacial pace and spent time judging people through the lens of an unreliable narrator. Might revisit at a later date.
Feb 27, 2013 Mo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I would classify this novel as a psychological murder mystery, which is normally not my preferred genre. I do not enjoy being scared, nor do I like exploring too deeply the “dark” side of life. I refused to see The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo at the movies because I was having a hard enough time getting the pictures out of my head just from having read the book.

I almost stopped reading this book after the first chapter.

I found the first chapter to be gruesomely detailed, but (lucky for me) the e
Lisa James
Mar 20, 2011 Lisa James rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery
This book is one I am glad I took a chance on, even though the librarian herself never finished it, LOL. This story takes place in a small town in upstate NY, where things are supposed to be safer than in the big city, Well, every small town has it's secrets, & this one is no exception. Told through the eyes of a high school teacher who's name we never know, this is a riveting murder mystery that is not nearly as straight forward as it seems. It makes you think, & no one is above suspici ...more
Jun 11, 2012 Roxana rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Life is a Mascarade, who is behind the mask?"... that song from Bend Folds and Josh Groban fits perfectly with the story narrated in this book.
Speaking of narration, at first, the way the story is presented, made me think of Truman Capote's "In cold blood". Is ok, the teller might not be a journalist but he is a privileged witness of the story. This is a small town, where everybody knows eachother, the question is, do they really know eachother? When the first girl disappears, all the people i
Mar 15, 2011 Esme rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: mystery-thriller
In dem Psychothriller "The Church of Dead Girls" ("Die Kirche der toten Mädchen") geht es um die Auswirkungen des Verschwindens von drei Mädchen auf das Leben in einer beliebigen amerikanischen Kleinstadt. Es entsteht eine Atmosphäre von Misstrauen und Angst, keiner ist vor den Verdächtigungen, der Täter zu sein, gefeit.

Was verbirgt der Nachbar hinter seiner öffentlich sichtbaren Fassade? Welche Geheimnisse lauern im Verborgenen?

Das eigene Verhalten (des Ich-Erzählers) wird vorsichtiger, er wägt
Dec 12, 2012 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not much of a re-reader. But, I actually kept my copy of this book and have read it twice. This is much more a than just a mystery. The way the author builds the suspense as our narrator tells a chilling tale of how a town turns in on itself after a young girl goes missing.
Human nature is explored as people began to eye their neighbors and secrets are brought to light in a small town.
There is a murderer among them and the reader gets sucked into the vortex of the investigation and maybe we
Mar 13, 2015 Suzanne rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller, horror
I didn't find this book to really be much of a thriller. I think thrillers tend to grab you by the throat and make you read late into the night. Not so with this book. I didn't feel "compelled" to finish until the last 3-4 chapters in this fairly long book. On the other hand, I can't say I disliked the book. The author clearly knows his way around good prose and has incredible character development. He made some interesting points about the "crowd/mob mentality." I'll probably continue to think ...more
Oct 13, 2011 Ruth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I came to this book because I knew Dobyns' work as a poet. I don't know what I expected of this novel, something consciously poetic, I suppose. It's definitely not that. But it is a rip-roaring good story. I couldn't put it down and plowed through the 400+ pages in a couple of days. In a way, it's a whodunit, but it's also a study of the interconnected secrets of a small town. I enjoyed it a lot. My only complaints about it are that the cast of characters was so large I had a hard time keeping t ...more
Kelley Tackett
I am ambivalent about this book. The book tells you the mystery right off the bat and you have to work towards that place again. I have never had so many characters introduced in a book. It was set in a small town and the narrator (you never learn his name, only that he's a gay man that teaches biology at the local school) felt the need to introduce lots of people and give you their whole backstory. Dobyns is a good writer. I would like to read more of his books but I wouldn't recommend starting ...more
carlie Smith
Nov 02, 2015 carlie Smith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This title seemed too obvious. Too look at me, I'm scary. It was sitting lonely amongst the forensic thrillers my work colleagues favour. I was all Scarpetta'd and Tempe'd out so I gave it a whirl. Anything to stave off the boredom of a 40 minute bus ride. I wasn't expecting much to be honest. The first quarter of the book did nothing to change my mind, then ooops there it is...

Dobyns very cleverly outlines the grisly crime scene at the off. Very possibly the only reason I stuck with it. Why tho
Jun 26, 2010 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I very much liked this book, but at the same time found it to be unsettlingly scary. I think it is realistic in the way it portrays how people would react to a situation such as presented in the book. If one has ever been singled out as an outsider, made unwelcome, or unjustly suspected or accused of something, one may just find this book too scary to read. It really hits the mark in describing how bad people can be, almost evil in their blindness.
Elke Koepping
May 10, 2016 Elke Koepping rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Ausgezeichnet! Ein außergewöhnliches Leseerlebnis. Dobyns gelingt es, die Lesenden auf hypnotische Weise und beinahe unmerklich einem unheimlichen Sog auszusetzen, der von der überaus detailreichen Schilderung einer amerikanischen Kleinstadt mit all ihren Abgründen und ihrer Bigotterie ausgeht. Ich konnte das Buch kaum aus der Hand legen.

Es geht Dobyns ganz augenscheinlich weniger um die Konstruktion und Auflösung eines unerhörten Kriminalfalls, sondern um wesentlich mehr: darum, der Gesellscha
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Dobyns was raised in New Jersey, Michigan, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. He was educated at Shimer College, graduated from Wayne State University, and received an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa in 1967. He has worked as a reporter for the Detroit News.

He has taught at various academic institutions, including Sarah Lawrence College, the Warren Wilson College MFA Program
More about Stephen Dobyns...

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“Actions have consequences. Ignorance about the nature of those actions does not free a person from responsibility for the consequences. (28)” 10 likes
“Adolescence is a dreadful period. We tend to notice those youngsters who misbehave and call attention to themselves, but there are others, equally miserable, who receive no help simply because they are silent. (41)” 10 likes
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