Book Reviews

{Review} Wicked Stepmother by Michael McDowell and Dennis Schuetz

by Michael McDowell
Published by Valancourt Books on April 5, 2016
Genres: Crime, Dark Fiction, Fiction, Horror, Law & Crime, Psychological Horror
Pages: 232
Format: eBook
Buy on Amazon

Seducing a proper Bostonian was easy. Making him die of a heart attack a week after the wedding was hardly any trouble at all. Now she has money, social status, everything she has cunningly schemed to get since she was a poor little girl. Everything except the Brookline mansion and the multi-million dollar trust fund left to the three children.
But what wicked stepmother couldn't get rid of three children?
Jonathan, too smart for his own good and suspicious about his father's death, has to be the first to go. Then there's pretty, spoiled Verity, hooked on cocaine and perpetually drunk - who'd ask any questions if she died suddenly? And clever Cassandra, just out of college and beginning a career as a literary editor, will simply have to get over being dead.
"Wicked Stepmother" (1983) is the second of the camp classics written by Michael McDowell (co-author of "Beetlejuice" and "The Nightmare Before Christmas") in collaboration with Dennis Schuetz. Five of McDowell's classic horror novels are also available from Valancourt.

Michael McDowell’s supernatural horror stories are beyond compare, but Wicked Stepmother is a spellbinding example of his writing sans any supernatural bent.

Set in Boston in the early 80’s, this is the story of a despicable woman who sets out to destroy an entire family. The reader is privy to this information pretty much from the get-go, so the fun here is involved with how the family discovers this and if they discover it in time. While the evil Louise is plotting, the reader is rooting for the Hawke family which, after the death of their father, consists of Verity, (that’s her on the cover), Cassandra and Jonathan.

While this family is not comprised of saints, I found myself rooting for them with all my heart. I also found myself yelling at them while reading-“No, don’t do that! Can’t you see what she’s doing?”, so on and so forth. Will the Hawke’s catch on to Louise’s evil schemes and those of her son? If they do catch on, will there be time to save the family and the family’s fortune? You’ll have to read Wicked Stepmother to find out!

Once again, McDowell has written a story that I found terribly difficult to put down. I ripped through 250 pages like it was nothing, and every moment I was away from this novel, all I was thinking about was getting back to it. Except of course, until the end, when I deliberately tried, unsuccessfully, to slow down to make it last. Then I came upon an ending so satisfying- it almost made up for all the grief McDowell put me through up to that point. Even though all the horror here is purely human, I think this book stands up to the phenomenal supernatural stories McDowell is known for, like The Elementals.

I cannot say enough good things about this novel-it’s fun, it’s fast paced, it’s populated with characters that you either love, or love to hate. It has sex, drugs and rock and roll. It has cool Massachusetts settings, (which I love, as a native of the state). It has money, power and real estate. Most of all it has the scheming machinations of a Wicked Stepmother. Don’t you want to see if she wins?

My highest recommendation!

You can buy your copy here:  Wicked Stepmother

*I received a free e-copy of this book from Valancourt Books, in exchange for an honest review. This is it!*


About Michael McDowell

Michael McDowell was born June 1, 1950 in Enterprise, Alabama and attended public schools in southern Alabama until 1968. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in English from Harvard, and in 1978 he was awarded his Ph.D. in English and American Literature from Brandeis.

His seventh novel written and first to be sold, The Amulet, was published in 1979 and would be followed by over thirty additional volumes of fiction written under his own name or the pseudonyms Nathan Aldyne, Axel Young, Mike McCray, and Preston Macadam. His notable books include the Southern Gothic horror novel The Elementals (1981), the serial novel Blackwater (1983), which was first published in a series of six paperback volumes, and the trilogy of “Jack & Susan” books.

By 1985 he was writing screenplays for television, including episodes for a number of anthology series such as Tales from the Darkside, Amazing Stories, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Tales from the Crypt. He went on to write the screenplay for Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), as well as the script for Thinner (1996). McDowell died December 27, 1999 from AIDS-related illness. Tabitha King, wife of author Stephen King, completed an unfinished McDowell novel, Candles Burning, which was published in 2006.


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