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Murder in Little Egypt Paperback – September 17, 2002

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Running Press (September 17, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786710950
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786710959
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,041,173 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The southern triangle of Illinois has been known as Egypt or Little Egypt since 1832, when northern Illinoisans journeyed there to buy corn after a difficult winter. In this riveting historical true-crime acount, we read about John Dale Cavaness, who grew up there and returned to practice medicine when he completed his training. With his second wife he had four sons and became one of the most beloved men in the area, often treating patients without charge. But at home he was tyrannical, beating his wife and eventually leaving her for his mistress, and criticizing his sons. University of Tulsa English professor O'Brien ( The Silver Spooner ) shows how this complex human being disintegrated, turning to drink and drugs and squandering his considerable income on chimerical schemes, until he killed two of his sons, presumably to collect the insurance. Convicted and sentenced to death, Cavaness committed suicide in prison. Literary Guild alternate.
Copyright 1988 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Dale Cavaness, a family practitioner, was worshipped in the small town region of southern Illinois known as Little Egypt. But the doctor was also a Mr. Hyde who terrorized his family, was convicted of drunk driving and reckless homicide, and was indicted for deceptive medical practice. Still, the shooting death of his son, Mark, in 1977, was seen as a tragic accident--until Cavaness was convicted of the 1984 murder of another son, Sean. The motive for these heinous crimes was insurance money. With the cooperation of surviving family members, O'Brien, who last wrote about the Los Angeles "Hillside Stranglers" in Two of a Kind ( LJ 9/1/85), has fashioned a chilling account of the psychopath as physician. Recommended.
- Gregor A. Preston, Univ. of California, Davis
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

The very well written and interesting book.
I highly recommend this book for those of you that enjoy true crime stories.
Diane Abel
Kudos to Darcy O'Brien for a spellbinding, well written book.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Crow on February 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
In 1988, I married a man from this area (Raleigh, IL) and moved there myself. Darcy O'Brien couldn't be more correct when he describes the natives and how they view newcomers or strangers. I purchased the book the day it hit the shelf in the Eldorado Big John's grocery store. I was fascinated by this true tale of a well-loved doctor who had murdered his own sons. As I read the story, I came across many names of people that I had recently met and became acquainted with in the area. One such person was the Sherrif that had arrested Dr. Cavaness. He wasn't sherrif any longer, as many years had passed. I later spoke with him about the murders & he basically recounted the story Darcy O'Brien tells in his book.

Read this one - you won't be able to put it down - or forget it.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By dyann z on August 19, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read this book some years ago, just when I began to work in that area of Southern Illinois. Born and raised in Centralia, about 60 miles northwest of where most of the book takes place, I had no idea just how accurate O'Brien's description was until then. As an 'outsider' driving into Eldorado, you get the idea that every venetian blind in town is being parted by nosey natives who are peeking out at every car they don't recognize, wondering who was coming in and, more importantly, when were they going out. And only 60 miles away from where I lived, I hadn't realized how different the world could be. Backward, closed, suspicious, narrow-minded are only a few of the words to describe the area in which Dr. Cavaness's controlled the locals. I mentioned to someone there that I was reading this book, some 20 years after the murders, and found that simple comment addressed angrily with "He delivered my children and none of that stuff is true." I think the outside world would be very surprised to know what secrets lurk behind idylic-appearing small towns and the long sordid tale of Dr. Cavaness is just one. It's the ones we don't know about that should trouble us. This book is a great read and absolutely right on it its description of the atomosphere in which a controlling, evil being can be allowed to grow and fester.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Briefwriter on October 10, 2003
Format: Paperback
Actually, I'd give it three and a half stars. The research is good, but she fell short in understanding the area about which she wrote.
I grew up in a neighboring county and I remember reading about Mark's death, and remember as well when Sean's death resulted in Dr. Cavaness' legal difficulties. Ms. O'Brien's research in that aspect was top notch, I thought, and she portrayed the facts accurately.
Her attempts to give the people color and offer background explanations, however, were more problematic, and I feel I have to leap to the defense of the people who live there. What Ms. O'Brien failed understand was the source of the reactions of the local people.
Ms. O'Brien did accurately characterize some elements of Eldorado -- it is a small, insular community, and people who aren't "from" there sometimes have a hard go of it. Marian Cavaness no doubt realized that, and my mother (who moved there for a short period as a kid) would agree wholeheartedly.
Having left southern Illinois as a teenager (and returned only recently), I have had to tolerate snobs who think that southern Illinois is nothing but a bunch of dumb, inbred, hillbilly yokels, and I felt Ms. O'Brien was in agreement. It is certainly not a metropolitan area, to be sure, but the reason the people of Eldorado supported Dr. Cavaness isn't simply explained by what Ms. O'Brien hinted was their supposed stupidity and gullibility.
Judging from the bibliography she provides, Ms. O'Brien knew about some material on the history of the area. She appears to have failed to apply it. The people are generally middle to lower-middle class, hardworking, proud, and fiercely independent. The fact that Dr.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By MJS on February 9, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are many ways for a parent to view their children: as a claim to immortality, as a living legacy, as an awesome responsibility to the future, etc. To Dr Dale Cavaness his children were like money in the bank and once in a while, like certificates of deposit in tough times, he had to cash them out.

It takes a true crime great like Darcy O'Brien to tell the story of a small town in southeastern Illinois so enthralled by the local doctor that the inhabitants overlook his increasingly bizarre and criminal behavior. In lesser hands this would have been an indictment of the small town or, worse, the sort of book that the dimwitted front cover review quote from the NYT deserves: "an indictment of a culture that condones and encourages violent behavior in men." Fortunately, O'Brien is smarter than that and the NYT reviewer clearly didn't read this book. This isn't about male violence, it's about America's hidden underclass.

If Dale Cavaness's mother purposely set out to create a narcissist she couldn't have done better than she did through sheer foolishness. From birth Dale was told that he was special, better than those around him. He absorbed this message from his mother and the belief that a man never runs from a fight from his father, the result was a "star" athlete and doctor in waiting. It says a lot that the sport Cavaness excelled in was basketball since he was, well, a little height challenged. This was a man who liked to beat the odds.

He was also a man who wanted to be on top. As a child he quickly realized that the equivalent of being a king in Egypt was being a doctor in Little Egypt. With the literal and metaphoric power of life and death in his hands, Dale Cavaness exerted the power his narcissism demanded.
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