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Summary

When a rifle range accident leaves Dean Howell disfigured and in a vegetative state, his wife Sarah finds her dreary life in Pine Cone, Alabama made even worse. After long and tedious days on the assembly line, she returns home to care for her corpse-like husband while enduring her loathsome and hateful mother-in-law, Jo. Jo blames the entire town for her son's mishap, and when she gives a strange piece of jewelry to the man she believes most responsible, a series of gruesome deaths is set in motion. Sarah believes the amulet has something to do with the rising body count, but no one will believe her. As the inexplicable murders continue, Sarah and her friend Becca Blair have no choice but to track down the amulet themselves, before it's too late...

Michael McDowell (1950-1999) is best known for his screenplays to the films Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas, but he was also the author of several excellent and underrated Southern Gothic horror novels, of which The Amulet (1979) was the first. Originally published as a pulp paperback, now scarce and long out-of-print, McDowell's grimly humorous and delightfully horrific novel returns in this edition, which features a new introduction by Poppy Z. Brite.

©1979, 2016 Michael McDowell (P)2017 Valancourt Books

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  • Jon Weimer
  • 11-12-17

Just as good 38 years later.

You probably have never heard of Michael McDowell, he died at a really young age. But if you're a fan of the film Beetlejuice, then you know his work. Out of print for nearly 30 years, his first novel is a masterwork of a field he created: Southern Gothic horror. without him, they'd be no Suki Stackhouse.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • AudioBook Reviewer
  • 23-01-18

🏆🎧 ABR Reviewer's Choice Award Winner

After being wounded in a military training exercise, Dean Howell returns home to his wife and mother in a vegetative state, his face hidden behind layers of bandages. While Sarah administers to his treatment, in addition to working full-time at the local munitions factory (the same factory that built the rifle that exploded in Dean's face), his bitter, resentful, and domineering mother, Jo, plots revenge. Jo blames the entire town of Pine Cone, Alabama for her son's debilitating injuries and sets into motion a series of extraordinary murders. The titular amulet, a cursed (or, perhaps, possessed) item gifted by Jo to the man who failed to hire Dean into the factory and save him from being drafted into the Vietnam War, is the only thing connecting the otherwise unrelated and inexplicable deaths. As the bodies begin to pile up, Sarah realizes the amulet lays at the center of it all, and she must find it before any more killings can occur.

Originally published in 1979, Valancourt Books reprinted The Amulet for a new generation of readers a few years ago, and this past August released this audiobook edition narrated by Audie Award winner Julia Whelan. Whelan does an excellent job bringing Michael McDowell's material to life, giving dialogue a soft and welcoming Southern lilt. Her reading of McDowell's wonderful writing held me in rapt attention the whole way through, and this is a top-notch production all around.

McDowell is an author that has been on my radar for a while now, thanks largely to Charlene at Char's Horror Corner, who has positively reviewed a number of the author's works as resurrected by Valancourt Books. Huge props, too, to Valancourt, because now that I've read McDowell for myself I will most certainly be reading as many more of his works as I can get my hands on.

Despite being set during the late 1960s, The Amulet is far from anachronistic. I've read plenty of 80s novels that felt far more dated than McDowell's (even Robert Marasco's Burnt Offerings, published only a few years prior to this book, felt far old than its original 1973 pub date), and thanks to the human factors at play here -- the family drama, friendships, and racial tensions between the white and black sections of Pine Cone -- The Amulet feels just as relevant in 2018 regardless of its nearly forty-year -old history. McDowell has an ear for dialogue, and the Alabama-born author successfully captures the regional patois and atmosphere of the region. His characters are believable, each of them inhabiting their own lives within these pages, and we're given just enough detail to care about them before they're yanked away from us. None of Pine Cone's residents are safe (not even the children, and there are several child deaths depicted throughout, so fair warning), and the diabolical piece of jewelry is a sort of traveling gun drawing them all toward danger. The body count here is significant, and McDowell does not pull any punches as he dispatches entire families, friends, and neighbors in delightfully creative and gruesome ways. In fact, I suspect the Final Destination film franchise owes a large debt, and a number of thanks, to this particular novel.

The Amulet is a wonderful and engrossing work of quiet, small-town horror, and McDowell does an incredible job building this story, ratcheting up the tension and taking us from one twisted murder to another as we follow this cursed object across Pine Cone and into the lives of those unfortunate enough to claim the strange necklace as their own. As his first published novel, The Amulet is an excellent introduction to McDowell's work for newcomers such as myself. I can promise you now it certainly will not be my last, and I'm already debating which Michael McDowell book I should dive into next.

Audiobook was purchased for review by ABR.

Please find this complete review and many others at my review blog.

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15 of 17 people found this review helpful

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  • Christine Ehren
  • 07-01-18

A fresh hell

This was a different kind of horror story. It was well crafted, the story felt fresh, and the elements of setting & character were given the kind of attention that makes me feel like I've stepped through a dark looking glass, not a hastily bent funhouse mirror. The narrator gave those well fleshed characters good voices for their place, time & impending tragic demise. Don't get fond of anybody, just saying.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark P.
  • 24-05-18

All McDowell is good!

I believe this was McDowell's first novel of southern gothic horror, a genre that this man did better than anyone else. This is probably McDowell at his trashiest and most violent. The story revolves around an amulet that's passed around to various people in the small town of Pine Cone, Alabama. As you can imagine, anyone who possesses the amulet gets killed in some horrifying fashion, and the deaths get more violent and more ridiculous as the book progresses. It's not quite as refined as it would be in his next few works, but McDowell also introduces the bickering southern families that would become a staple of his work. The relationship between Sarah Howell and her angry, mean-spirited, manipulative mother-in-law Jo Howell (you will love to hate her) really sets the stage for his next few books, all of which are even better than this one even if some of them aren't quite as fun. This is like one of your favorite horror B-movies in novel form. Check this one out!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • guershon moreno
  • 23-01-18

Just good

I realize had another author written this, I’d have probably given it a better score. The characters were nowhere nearly as developed as in “The Elementals” or “Blackwater.” The way the amulet is used becomes stale for me. It feels as if Mcdowell was going for the idea that as the amulet kills, it restores Dean’s health, which is just mentioned in passing at the end.

Perhaps it’s the devices in this book are dated, perhaps I’ve just been spoiled with mcdowell ‘s other beautiful stories.

If you’re a fan of Michael McDowell’s work, it’s important to read this novel.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Wanderlust
  • 14-12-17

Great!

Deliciously disturbing story. Great narration. Recommended to every horror enthusiast. Would purchase this audio book again.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 02-12-17

Gripping Thriller.

Michael McDowell is probably the best horror writer ever. This is the 3rd book of his I have read, and once again, I was spellbound. Unfortunately, he passed away in 1999 - far too young. I couldn't put the Audio Book down.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • My friend's glasses
  • 06-08-18

Interesting

I loved this book. Started a little slow for my taste but it build up after the first chapters.
You can feel what the characters are feeling and it really gets to you.
The narrator is really good and expressive and the book it's really well written, lots of details that makes you feel you are part of the story and you know the characters.
I thought the story was going to be more horror that it actually was but it's a very interesting story that shows the different type of people in this world. The good and dedicated, the bad and entitled and the plain innocents that get cut up in the middle of a horrible revenge.
I recommend this book if you like Michael McDowell or if you want to start reading his books, it's a great first book.


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  • Leslie
  • 02-08-18

Keeps you wanting more.

What a great story. Very descriptive. Note it is graphic with lots of death but keeps you clinging on. I found myself hating the mother in law. The only thing I have found after reading several of Mcdowell's novels is I wished he had given you backstories on the wicked objects that are the source of the wilderness. Eventhough this was written a couple decades ago it is hardly noticeable. You get wrapped in the story. It moves along at a good pace. Definitely worth the time to listen.

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  • Lulew
  • 24-01-18

Not the best

I’d purchased two other books by the same author and they were far better. Pass on this one. It gets long.

2 of 4 people found this review helpful