The gothic Mists of Fernhaven series comes to an unimpressive conclusion in Joanna Wayne’s The Amulet. It starts with the potential to be the moodiest, most atmospheric installment yet, only to have its promising story fall victim to lackluster execution.
One winter night, Deputy Bart Finnegan responds to an emergency call at the Fernhaven Hotel, where a female guest was reported missing. He arrives in time to exchange gunfire with the woman’s abductor, only to take a bullet himself. One month after his shooting, Bart returns to the hotel to pick up the chase. The woman’s husband was arrested for her rape and murder, but Bart believes the man isn’t the true killer, who might still lurk at Fernhaven.
Bart is distracted from his mission by a beautiful woman he spots in the hotel’s ballroom. The mysterious Katrina O’Malley is on a mission of her own, one related to the amulet she wears around her neck. She knows she can’t risk revealing her secrets to Bart despite their mutual attraction. Meanwhile, Bart’s former partner Carrie Fransen gets a new partner, Rich McFarland, a small town deputy with a big-city attitude who rubs her the wrong way. A threatening note seems to indicate the killer will strike again, and Carrie and Rich are assigned to find him before it happens. Their search inevitably leads back to Fernhaven and the surrounding mountains, where ghosts are said to walk and mysterious things seem to be happening.
Bart and Katrina are named on the back cover and top the cast of characters, giving the impression that they are the book’s main characters. This is understandable, since the book is part of a gothic series and their storyline is more obviously gothic. But Carrie and Rich are actually equally prominent, if not more so, receiving even more attention and often overshadowing the other couple. Individually, the dual stories might work nicely, but neither is served well here in the stort series format. By splitting the focus, they both come up lacking.
There’s nothing wrong with the basic story. It has a solid premise, is sufficiently intriguing and comes complete with a plot twist that could have been very effective (more on that in a moment). The problem is that it suffers from an almost complete lack of development. As is the case with far too many series romances these days, especially in the Intrigue line, the author’s writing is very sketchy. It’s not very descriptive, which prevents her from delivering much of a proper gothic mood. While there are some creepy moments, they’re fleeting and the mood is never sustained.
The character development is perfunctory at best, with a few bare bones facts delivered sparingly about each character. Katrina has the most fleshed out backstory, and unsurprisingly it’s also the most interesting. Otherwise, Carrie grew up in foster homes, Bart is a former Marine with a demanding father and critical stepmother, and Rich has nice grandparents and burned out on city life after witnessing a brutal crime. That’s all well and good, but it would be nice if any of them had much in the way of a personality. A few tidbits do not a fully fleshed out character make. Meanwhile, the lazily plotted and meandering storyline seems to drift along before finally arriving at its underwhelming conclusion. The killer is neither surprising nor predictable, but a big shrug, despite some promising ideas and moments.
As for the plot twist, it’s undercut by the lack of character development, which prevents it from having the impact it should. It doesn’t help that the author telegraphs it from early in the story. The best plot twists are the ones where the author presents the story in a way where there’s no reason for the reader to believe anything is at work other than what’s being presented at face value. In this case, rather than present reasonable explanations that can later be cast in a different light, the author is so purposely vague on some points that it couldn’t be more obvious she’s hiding something. Any reader with enough curiosity to wonder what that might be should have no trouble guessing it. It’s an unusual and interesting concept for a romance novel (although highly derivative of a popular movie) that could have been really cool. Again, it’s a shrug.
In the end, The Amulet is somewhat acceptable, but, appropriately enough, it reminded me too much of many ghost sightings. At first glance it looks spooky, it might give you a scare or two, but when you look a little closer, it becomes clear there’s nothing there. That’s how I felt after finishing this book. Too vague, too shallow, and too indistinct, it’s a letdown.