Michael McDowell is one of the unsung horror writing greats that I haven’t read until recently. Boy, was putting off his first published novel The Amulet was a mistake. If you’re looking for a Southern Gothic flavor in your Final Destination (published years before the movie came out, actually!), this book is your go-to and Mr. McDowell is your guy.
What is it About?
Written by Michael McDowell and first published in 1979, The Amulet is about a young woman named Sarah who is forced to chase down a cursed amulet passed down from person to person, causing gruesome outcomes for each new owner.
This may very well be the one of the best horror novels I’ve read in a while. Michael McDowell really knows how to set the stage. This is one of those books where the location is another character. The town of Pine Cone feels so realistic and realized, it makes it easier to get with each new character who ends up owning the amulet even if we get to spend only a little time with them, compared to our main protagonist, Sarah. The way he’s written her and how she got to chasing after the amulet is so tragic. He really puts her through the ringer, you want her to just catch a break.
However, the author has also crafted such a compelling lead with her and the supporting character Becca. Their friendship is very endearing. Becca is supportive of Sarah in pursuing this amulet even though she’s not a firm believer herself, wanting to just be there for her friend. The villain of the book is kind of an open secret as the narrative goes on but I’ll save the surprises for y’all. I will say though that their bitterness for the town of Pine Cone is also as engaging to read, as Sarah does her damndest to thwart this person’s plans.
What I’m trying to say with the previous paragraphs is that one of the best aspects of this book aside from the gruesome kills (we’ll get to that!) is the women who are front and center of the story. They’re absolute go-getters and even if they are thrown into situations where they’re meant to feel helpless, they’re resilient and resourceful enough to keep pushing on to succeed.
Now, I did mention gory deaths and yes, this book has plenty, which was quite a surprise. Not to say Stephen King isn’t capable of a bloodbath himself but seeing his blurb on the cover got me thinking I could get cozy with this book. Nope! The first batch of victims includes characters you wouldn’t expect to kick the bucket and in such gory detail, in such casual fashion that it comes off as disturbing. After that, you get the sense that all bets are off, really. Like, anyone can die.
What Did Not Work?
I think I’m lucky that I keep getting really good reads recently but this is a darn good read. However, readers might find irritation in seeing a pattern within this book. Character gets the amulet, they kill, then they die. However, thanks to the writer’s world-building, this doesn’t really bother me but it’s worth putting it out there for readers who don’t like repetition in their narratives.
Where Can I Find It?
The Amulet is a gleefully gory treat of a horror novel for Michael McDowell fans, new and old. It delivers characters you almost instantly care about. The kills don’t hold back on the grue. It’s mean-spirited without being in bad taste. I highly recommend seeking out this rugged but classy horror outing.
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Dustin is a horror fan and sometimes short story writer who hails from the Philippines. He likes a lot of the horror genre but usually goes for slashers and arthouse/slowburn stuff. Currently, he’s trying to make up for lost time in the horror literature world by digesting as many horror books as he can.