Church of Dead Girls

Overview

For decades, the faded, rural upstate New York village has lain dormant—until it is startlingly stirred to life wen, one by one, three young girls vanish...

Nightmare are turned into horrifying reality when their corpses are found, brutally murdered, each missing their left hand...

Now, as the search for a madman gets underway, suspicion shrouds the quiet streets of Aurelius when its residents soon realize ...

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Overview

For decades, the faded, rural upstate New York village has lain dormant—until it is startlingly stirred to life wen, one by one, three young girls vanish...

Nightmare are turned into horrifying reality when their corpses are found, brutally murdered, each missing their left hand...

Now, as the search for a madman gets underway, suspicion shrouds the quiet streets of Aurelius when its residents soon realize that monster lives amongst them...

But no even prayers can save their loved ones from the rage of a twisted mind who has only just begun his slaughter...

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The successive disappearances of three young girls rip a small town in New York's Hudson Valley from its Currier & Ives tranquillity and turn it into a hotbed of paranoia and suspicion. Think Thornton Wilder if he'd written Our Town with Richard Speck.

—Rick Koster

Publishers Weekly - Cahners\\Publishers_Weekly
In a gripping prologue to this masterful psychological thriller, Dobyns creates an unforgettable scene: in an attic shrine, the bodies of three dead girls are tied to chairs; all have had their left hands cut off. Aurelius, the town in upstate New York where this bizarre discovery is made, is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else. As the narrative gains momentum, Dobyns brilliantly chronicles the gradual ripping away of all trust and familiarity within the community. Everyone seems guilty, even the fussy high-school science teacher who relates the events leading up to the disappearances of the three girls. Paramount in everyone's mind is the recent return to Aurelius of Aaron McNeal, a young troublemaker whose mother, Janice, was murdered years earlier. The belated revelation that Janice's left hand had been severed, too, signals that her murderer is still at large. The citizens of Aurelius begin to see each other by the dark light of potential guilt. In a story full of brilliant touches, Dobyns, who writes the Saratoga Mystery series, shows how the support group for the family of the first victim metamorphoses into a vigilante patrol that witch-hunts Aurelius into a state of paranoid terror. In the end, this chiller is about the awful power of fear. When the people of Aurelius go looking for a monster, monsters are all they can see.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a gripping prologue to this masterful psychological thriller, Dobyns creates an unforgettable scene: in an attic shrine, the bodies of three dead girls are tied to chairs; all have had their left hands cut off. Aurelius, the town in upstate New York where this bizarre discovery is made, is the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else. As the narrative gains momentum, Dobyns brilliantly chronicles the gradual ripping away of all trust and familiarity within the community. Everyone seems guilty, even the fussy high-school science teacher who relates the events leading up to the disappearances of the three girls. Paramount in everyone's mind is the recent return to Aurelius of Aaron McNeal, a young troublemaker whose mother, Janice, was murdered years earlier. The belated revelation that Janice's left hand had been severed, too, signals that her murderer is still at large. The citizens of Aurelius begin to see each other by the dark light of potential guilt. In a story full of brilliant touches, Dobyns, who writes the Saratoga Mystery series, shows how the support group for the family of the first victim metamorphoses into a vigilante patrol that witch-hunts Aurelius into a state of paranoid terror. In the end, this chiller is about the awful power of fear. When the people of Aurelius go looking for a monster, monsters are all they can see. 60,000 first printing; $75,000 ad/ promo; BOMC, QPB alternates; film rights to HBO; foreign rights sold to Fischer in Germany and Penguin UK. (June) FYI: The publishers are circulating a letter from Stephen King praising the novel and connecting it to one of Dobyns's poems, "The Town," collected in the volume Cemetery Nights.
Library Journal
Despite the lurid title, Dobyns's latest novel (he is a poet and author of the "Saratoga" mystery series) is a compelling mystery that shows how the people in a small town change because of a series of murders. First, a promiscuous woman is murdered. Then three girls disappear in succession. The narrator reports how the symptoms of fear escalate into a raging disease consuming the community. Cloaking prejudice and fear with righteousness, certain citizens target individuals who are on the community's fringe. By the story's end, no one escapes suspicion. Many characters and the complexities of human interactions receive well-rounded treatment. This absorbing tale, fit for any general collection, is highly recommended.Michelle Foyt, Fairfield P.L., Ct.
Kirkus Reviews
A brisk dip into the ice-cold waters of schizophrenia, nymphomania, and serial murder, by the author of Saratoga Fleshpot (1995), etc.

Aurelia, New York, is one of those pleasant little towns that you need a good reason to visit and none at all to leave. Situated somewhere in the vicinity of Utica, it has been losing jobs and people for most of the last 50 years. But of late these disappearances have become increasingly macabre. People are horrified to discover Janice McNeal, the town floozy, murdered in her own home, while the amputation of her left hand—presumably as a souvenir—adds an especially grisly touch to an already-repugnant tableau. Janice's son Aaron is naturally disturbed by these events, but he himself begins to arouse more suspicion than sympathy when he chews off a classmate's ear during a lunchroom argument that gets out of hand. And, in rapid succession, three young girls vanish inexplicably, with no trace save the bundles of their clothing that mysteriously appear soon after their disappearance. Just what is going on? Much of the suspicion is directed toward a Marxist study group at the local college, although a vigilante bunch comprised of local rednecks also come to be suspect. Aaron, meanwhile, with his brooding fury and strange charisma, is not the weirdest guy in town by a long shot. The unnamed narrator, a high- school biology teacher, also secretly keeps a collection of nasty objects submerged in formaldehyde to impress his favorite pupils. The solution to the mystery comes at the end of a long trail of blood and perversity that might well have been worked out in a collaboration between John Webster and Grace Metalious.

A vivid and deeply scary tale, then, that ultimately becomes too relentless: Dobyns needs to follow Poe's lead rather than Stephen King's and save the scariest bits for the end.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312977368
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/15/2001
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Dobyns is the author of nineteen novels, nine collections of poetry, and the best-selling "Saratoga" mystery series. Briefly a reporter for The Detroit News, Dobyns has been a professor of English, creative writing, and poetry since 1968 and has taught at Syracuse University, the University of Iowa, and Brandeis University, among others. He lives in Boston with his wife and three children.

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Interviews & Essays

On Tuesday, June 24th, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Stephen Dobyns, author of THE CHURCH OF DEAD GIRLS.


Moderator: Hello, and welcome to the barnesandnoble.com Live Events Auditorium! Tonight we are pleased to welcome author Stephen Dobyns, whose most recent thriller is entitled THE CHURCH OF DEAD GIRLS. Welcome, Mr. Dobyns, we're glad to have you with us tonight!



Larry from earthlink: Have you met Richard Russo, Stuwart Dybek, Mary Karr or Stephen King -- any of the people who wrote blurbs for you book's cover? What kind of input have you had from them aside from what they've written for the jacket?

Stephen Dobyns: I've met them all. Some I've known for many years, they are all writers I respect. And they've all told me in letters or on the phone how much they've liked the book.



Amy from New York City: What is it like to write suspense? Did you find it difficult -- your style is seamless -- did it require much rewriting?

Stephen Dobyns: It required huge rewriting. Ideally, you make something that seems seamless and spontaneous, the novel developed over five or six years, and was revised until I could think of nothing else to revise.



Theodore from Jacksonville: Did you read comics as a kid? I love thrillers and horror, and I think it stems from my love for fantastical and mysterious comics as a kid. Just asking, thanks.

Stephen Dobyns: I read comics as a kid, I listened to the radio, of which there were radio broadcasted mysteries. I read a lot and was lucky to have people to read out loud to me.



Mimi from Salt Lake City, UT: I live in a town that seems a lot like Aurelius -- it is spooky enough without murdered teenagers. Have you lived in a town like this? Was there a particular event that inspired this story?

Stephen Dobyns: I've lived in small towns in New York state and in Maine and in Michigan, but I think the disappearance of young teenage girls that happened about five years ago certainly influenced my writing of this story.



Gin from Manhattan: Did you have a different audience in mind when you wrote CHURCH OF THE DEAD GIRLS, then when you wrote your poetry? Did you intend to write e more commercially appealing book?

Stephen Dobyns: Well, I like to think that whatever I write would be interesting to all readers. But CHURCH tries to be a mixed genre book part mystery and part psychological thriller. The questions are always the same -- that is how do we live -- the different genres are different ways of approaching that same question.



Roger Weisback from Long Island Sound: Will CHURCH will be made into a movie? Who do you want as an ideal cast?

Stephen Dobyns: The book has been optioned by HBO, and I know they have a screen play, but I don't know who they have thought of. I'm simply unable to imagine what an ideal cast would consist of -- as long as there are no animated characters.



SUE from QUEENS ISLAND: Mr. Dobyns, what do you think about the recent serial releases by horror writers, namely John Saul and Stephen King? Fun idea, or expensive and thus unfair to the consumer?

Stephen Dobyns: I think it's a fun idea. A novel is always dealing with suspense and this is a newly way of using suspense. King simply writes the novels, and it's the publishers that market them. But King is like a modern day Dickens in many ways and Dickens wrote serials in a similar way . . . though he might rollover in the grave to hear that.



Yvette Pasqua from Mamaroneck: Is writing horror a release for you in some way? Do you feel at all guilty about writing these stories for 'entertainment' when there are real-life grisly and shocking murders of children that are reported in the news everyday? Basically, how do you defend your genre?

Stephen Dobyns: I write because I'm a writer and I love to write. Any poem, novel, short story is at some level a metaphor that says something about my own emotional connection to the world. Every writer writes out of a totality of his or her own being, and in the arts that talent needs to be uncensored. If somebody only wrote stories about happy, balanced people, no body would buy them. Even Winney The Pooh suffered from existential angst.



Janna from Larchmont, NY: What is your favorite part about teaching? Is there any piece of advice you find yourself giving more often than another?

Stephen Dobyns: I think young author have to forgive themselves for the clumsiness of the early drafts, once you have something on paper you can make it better. Also, I don't think you can learn to write anything unless you have to love to read. You have to forgive yourself for what your unconscious mind puts onto the page because it will always bring up stuff that makes you uncomfortable.



Brian Knapp from Amandale: Do you read much Stephen King? Have you ever modeled your own writing after his? Is there anyone else whom you read and are inspired by?

Stephen Dobyns: I've read probably about 4 or 5 novels of King's I'm impressed at how he handles suspense and how he uses the readers own mind to terrify him. And I'm impressed by his use of metaphor and description. I think one of the finest writers in the English language right now is William Trevor -- an Irish writer.



Kimberly from Metbooks: What is your relationship with Tobias and Catherine Wolf -- to whom the book is dedicated?

Stephen Dobyns: I've known Toby Wolf for about twenty years. We met when we both taught at Goddard College, and we've both taught at Syracuse University for the past nine years.



MattZ. from Hollywood: Have you visited/read about John Saul's town of Blackstone, which is the setting for his new serial, THE BLACKSTONE CHRONICLES?

Stephen Dobyns: I've heard about it, but I've not read it.



Jen from Colorado Springs: How did you come up with this image of the three dead girls sitting erect next to each other in a row? By the way, I've just begun your book and I love it -- I may finish it tonight.

Stephen Dobyns: I think it was just an image that occurred to me, I was trying to imagine a scene so completely that it became three dimensional in my mind, and I can see it as real as what people call real life. It's just one of those benevolent psychosis that writers have. It's also revision and revision and revision . . .



Mason from Sunset Cottage: If Katrina Kenison approached you about guest-editing "The Best American Short Stories" annual series, would you agree to doing it? And if yes, what kind of criteria would you hold to a story, to make it one of the 'best'?

Stephen Dobyns: I certainly would be interested in doing it. My criteria for a story is like my criteria for a poem , first, I want it to make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, second, I'm interested in how it's made -- if the language excites me.



PhilipZ from NYC: What is the best thing you've ever been told about your writing?

Stephen Dobyns: Let me think . . . when someone has told me that the story has completely caught them up, and for a short time made the outside world disappear. But sometimes, a friend or a reviewer will describe something I've written and I hear that they are describing exactly what I meant -- and that's wonderful because it make the link between human beings and the page is that link, so that for a short time writer and reader seem completely connected.



Neil Lamont from Hartford: Memoir seems like the only genre you haven't tried . . . do you think you'll ever experiment with it? Will you experiment with any other voices or genres? Your talent is amazingly varied.

Stephen Dobyns: I've written some memoir-like essays, memoir seems like a more sophisticated form of fiction and I find myself preferring more old fashioned fiction. I also think of writing plays, I've written parts of plays, and I often think of that. I have to find an idea that catches me up -- and that can be done in a play or in a poem or perhaps even a memoir.



Reginald Shutt from the lair: As a college professor, do you feel that college students today get the education that they pay for, or is it too easy to just 'get by' and not gain everything out of the education that is possible. What is your academic impression of college students today?

Stephen Dobyns: I think education is too tied to economic results. The goal of the traditional liberal education was to teach people how to think and how to make the world better, now it seems to be how to get a job and how to make a lot of money.



Stephanie Selbert from Cinci, OH: Are you currently teaching? I am a fiction student -- do you have any advice on how to get published?

Stephen Dobyns: I'm teaching workshops but I'm not teaching in a regular college program. I'm teaching for two weeks at the University of VT this summer. The way to get published is to write and write until you write something that someone wants to read . . . But also, if you can give it up you should try to give it up, if you can't -- give it everything you've got.



MattZ. from Hollywood: Your new book revolves around a small town, Aurelius. Where did the name come from? Any historical significance?SD

Stephen Dobyns: It comes from the Roman emperor and stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius argued that one should control one's desires so they do not get out of control, which is what they did in my town of Aurelis -- it was a private joke on my part.



Emannuel from Highridge: Who are the forefathers that you and your contemporaries in the mystery genre look to for inspiration?

Stephen Dobyns: In the 19th century, Wilkie Colins, Charles Dickens and Sheriden Lafanu. More recently I've admired Raymond Chandler or the Belgian, George Seminole, but also Dorothy Sayers and Marjorie Alingham. All these writer are people who would make character equal to plot.



Marcus from the smaller room: Do you ever scare yourself?

Stephen Dobyns: Certainly. I can write a scene and become frightened by what I've just written -- that's part of the pleasure. Once I wrote a scene that scared me so much I couldn't finish it. When Robert Louis Stenenson first wrote Jekyl and Hyde, he tore up the manuscript -- that's the sign of a good book.



Marco from 120: Do you use the internet as a resource for writing?

Stephen Dobyns: I've just begun to use the internet and can see using it to get access to libraries and public records, that kind of thing, also maybe information about cities.



Frank from Jackson Hole: A lot of psycho-thrillers out there these days dealing with cults and militias. A big concern in the national consciousness these days, but I think that the topic will soon be overdone too much. Have you read any good fiction about cults?

Stephen Dobyns: No. I can't think of any good fiction about cults, I'm afraid not.



Beachbum from The Cape, MA: What will be your next project? Mystery, poetry, journalism . . . ?

Stephen Dobyns: I'm working on a new book of poems that Viking will publish in two years. I also have a new SARATOGA mystery that will come out in the summer of '98 and I'm just beginning a new novel that has some of the suspense of CHURCH, and I'm still writing journalism. I tend to move back and forth.



Howard from Gambier: Have you read Dybek's short story, 'We Didn't' ? Great story . . .

Stephen Dobyns: I think Dybek is a wonderful short story writer, he's one that I've learned from and a person's whose work always delights me. I felt very honored that he should like and be able to comment on my book.



Moderator: Thanks for being with us tonight, Stephen Dobyns! And thanks to all of you who participated, we enjoyed having you. Goodnight, Mr. Dobyns!

Stephen Dobyns: Goodnight to you!


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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2006

    Good Good Good

    I thought the book was really good. I read it while i was in high school and i always think about it and couldn't remember the title until now. It was a great read and i liked how it kept me thinking till in the end where you figured out what was actually going on and who was behind all of it. Im into those kind of stories so there ya go.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2009

    A Chilling, Frustrating and Ultimately Fantastic Read

    One at a time, three young girls disappear without a trace in a sleepy, seemingly safe community. Each time, their clothes are returned anonymously--neatly cleaned and ironed and placed in a box along with a mannaquin's left hand and a list of "severed" dirty words. The only thing that is fairly certain is that the person responsible is someone in their midst. But who? Although the narrator leads the reader through a frustrating experience trying to determine who could have done such a hideous crime, this is much more an inquiry into the human condition as it is a whodunit. There were many, many characters, and each one is suspect, including the narrator. I became at times extremely frustrated reading this story, and began to realize that this is exactly what the author, Stephen Dobyns wanted to have happen. In reading the book, you become a member of this community, and can begin to understand the level of fear and frustration that these people were living under. Those emotions led some people to turn on their neighbors and friends and to do things they might not normally do. Unlike some of the other readers who have posted their reviews here, I had no idea who was responsible until very near the end. And then the final little commentary at the very end, left me feeling chilled. I gobbled this book up and look forward to reading more of this fine author.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2003

    gah!!!

    I hated this book. It was garbage. Too many characters and it took a while to get to te good part and the ending wsnt even a a shocker , i saw it coming form miles away.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 29, 2003

    Wow, was this one a sleeper!

    What a great book, I just couldn't stop thinking about all the people in the book, nor could I figure out who 'did it'. I actually don't read mysteries - I love real-life dramas, like in the Oprah club books. This one combined the dramas yet I was always intrigued with who was killing the girls. And the author has an amazing way of getting into people's heads and communicating their secret motives and reasons why people do what they do...why they act as they act, etc. I love studying human behavior and this was a GREAT and realistic avenue to learn more about it, while being totally entertained. Can't wait to read his next book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2003

    Suspense! Suspense!

    Read this back when it first came out. I had difficulty putting it down. The descriptions are so vivid, you can picture the sleepy town where the horror takes place in your mind. It is a place you can picture having been to before. The characters are people you have met. Great for those long days when you are home from work with the flu!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 12, 2002

    Good despite weird title

    I read this book cover to cover at work while on my lunch break, and I got some strange looks from my co-workers... But, it was SO good that I hated to put it down at the end of lunch!! Slow in spots, but kept me guessing until the very end.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 9, 2002

    amazing talent

    This book is great -- it is chilling in a realistic manner. It was very hard to put down, and I couldn't wait till the end of the day so that I could curl up in bed and read. Dobyns, in my opinion, is without a doubt one of the finest authors I've had the pleasure of reading. His works are so detailed and they come to life; he is a true artist. I also strongly recommend 'Boy in the Water' for another suspenseful and creepy tale.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2002

    i liked it

    i read this book a while ago. i remember when i first started to read it, i was like 'oh man, there's a lot of characters i need to stay up with'. i thought i was gonna die if i didn't catch every detail. well when i got towards the end of the book i realized i didn't need to fret, it wasn't as shocking as i thought. but it was still a very good read and one of these days i'll read it again without worrying about all the details.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2001

    bizarre & horrifically thrilling

    once I started reading this book, I couldn't stop! the narrator seemed so real, I could picture his entire cluttered house with teapot, glass jars, and all.. I worried about the young girls who were stalked.. I couldn't figure out who the killer was until I was 3/4 through the book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2001

    very scary

    It seriously made me have panic attacks while lying in bed. I think that if any book can make you feel that strong is worth reading.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 16, 2001

    Perfect

    Incredible book. Everytime I put it down I had to pick it right back up. Shows the true horrors a person fears to see or show. Wonderfully put together, from the first to the very last page. A must read book, it will pull you in, and you'll wont want to get out.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2000

    Enthralling and thought provoking

    This book asks a basic question- what is the source of hysteria and who is safe once it's shown it's ugly face. A remarkable work that probes deeply into the idealization of rural American life and exposes the not so nice side of living in a small contained place.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2000

    Addictive!!!

    I was obsessed with this book from the first page. During the next 3 days I would not let it go, everywhere I went the book went too. It was like if the book was surgically implanted to my hand. What makes this book so creepy is that its subject matter is a sickening reality that we hear about far too often. It is frightening to imagine that so many people can use normality as a mask for madness. You start to wonder what others REALLY do behind closed doors. The paranoia is highly contagious..READ IT!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2000

    A great thriller...to the very end

    This was an excellent read that I hard time putting the book down. The characters are so true to life. It's a suspenseful thriller that delves into the human psyche and it speaks volumes about the power of assumptions. It's a great book!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2000

    excellent book

    this book was awesome. it really makes you think, and you may come to realize how true the actions of the people in the book compare to those of real life. i highly reccomend it.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2000

    suspense to the max

    the church of deads girls was an excellent book that kept you in suspense until the very end. you never know what to expect. dobyns is constantly coming out with new surprising twists to keep the reader enthralled!

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