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The Church of Dead Girls

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  2,467 ratings  ·  302 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 ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published May 18th 1998 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1997)
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Average rating 3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,467 ratings  ·  302 reviews


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J.K. Grice
I dare you to find a better thriller in the past 20+ years. Dobyn's creates a frightening masterpiece that is among the best I've ever read. I highly recommend THE CHURCH OF DEAD GIRLS.
Trudi
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
...more
Gary
Jun 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Carole (Carole's Random Life in Books)
This review can also be found at Carole's Random Life.

The best part of this book was finishing it. Seriously, I was absolutely thrilled to finally be done with this one so that I could move on to something else. I actually almost stopped listening pretty early on in the book because it just wasn't working for me but I made myself continue because I didn't feel like I had given it a chance. The last part of the book was a bit better for me but only a bit.

I was ready for an exciting mystery and
...more
Maciek
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
...more
Julie
Dec 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
David H.
Nov 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Rachel
A dreadful and startingly realistic portrait of how a small town deals with the disappearance of three young girls. It explores hysteria, scapegoating, and how all of us have secrets. The prologue and the ending were bone chilling and everything in between was written so well - I felt like I was there. This was a great horrific mystery that totally crawled under my skin and gave me pause. so good!
El
Here is another novel that has been on my bookshelf for an embarrassingly long time. Once upon a time I read a book of poetry by Stephen Dobyns, Pallbearers Envying the One Who Rides, which I absolutely adored. I still have a copy lying around, and every so often I think about re-reading it to see if I still like it (but also scared to re-read it to see if I still like it). Then I found out Dobyns also wrote fiction, so I found a copy of this one and Boy in the Water a long time ago... and then ...more
Jim Thomsen
Sep 04, 2009 rated it it was amazing
"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,
...more
Karyl
Jun 07, 2010 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
...more
Lobstergirl
Apr 29, 2014 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
...more
Matthew Iden
Dec 04, 2007 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,
...more
Lou
Sep 16, 2010 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Erika
Sep 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
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.
Asghar Abbas
Oct 06, 2016 rated it really liked it

A truly chilling and hypnotic book. A literary thriller that deals with aftershocks of horrific events in a small town, very Stephen Kingy that way. An unique prose and a nameless narrator made it an interesting read.
Michele
May 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not so much a genre mystery as an exploration of the damage that suspicion and fear can wreak on a community, in the manner of The Crucible or the classic Twilight Zone episode, The Monsters are Due on Maple Street. The characters are well-drawn and the writing adept (I was not surprised to discover that Dobyns is also a poet), while the narrator -- an outsider in more ways than one -- is an interesting choice on the author's part that adds a somewhat unsettling sense of objectivity and distance ...more
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.
Helen
Apr 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
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.
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.
Kelley Tackett
Apr 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Bandit
Aug 17, 2011 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
Eric_W
Nov 30, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Bojana
Sep 15, 2012 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
...more
Callie
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Callie by: Dad
“There were many such tributes at the end. They existed for the living, of course, for what could the dead care about such things?”

And who does this book exist for? Because it definitely was not for me.

Some thrillers take time, slowly ratcheting up the suspense until an explosive reveal or finale. This is not one of the books. It is slow, then, it is slow and remains slow, and then finally 40 pages from the end things actually start happening. Coincidentally, I liked the ending. The other 340
...more
Kristina
The Church of Dead Girls by Stephen Dobyns opens with a chilling and mesmerizing description of the crime scene: the missing bodies of three teenage girls sitting on chairs wearing handmade velvet gowns covered with figures of animals and stars and moons cut from sparkly cloth. The chairs themselves are covered with the shiny bottoms of tin cans, round reflectors, and the bottoms of beer bottles. Tin foil is wrapped around the chairs and candles had been placed all around the room:
How busy the
...more
Noctvrnal
Nov 16, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dnf
Had several issues with this book and dropped it after reading 24% of it on my kindle. While having a great intro, this book's narrative really made me struggle to keep reading, a battle which I obviously lost. I restarted this book three times, I suppose it wasn't meant to be.
Linda  Branham Greenwell
I really liked this book... it starts off rather slow (well, after the first chapter - lol ) During the first chapter 3 teenaged girls are discovered dead... the following chapters are a narrative of how events lead up to the 3 teens being found The story is about regular people, placed in difficult situations and how they react, turning either heroic or evil, but always believing they are doing what's right. How quickly people look for someone to blame - especially people who are seen as ...more
Mo
Jan 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Joyce
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
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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
“Actions have consequences. Ignorance about the nature of those actions does not free a person from responsibility for the consequences. (28)” 11 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)” 9 likes
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