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Cold Moon Over Babylon

by Michael McDowell

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3191382,514 (3.98)20
Welcome to Babylon, a typical sleepy Alabama small town, where years earlier the Larkin family suffered a terrible tragedy. Now they are about to endure another: fourteen-year-old Margaret Larkin will be robbed of her innocence and her life by a killer who is beyond the reach of the law. But something strange is happening in Babylon: traffic lights flash an eerie blue, a ghostly hand slithers from the drain of a kitchen sink, graves erupt from the local cemetery in an implacable march of terror ... And beneath the murky surface of the river, a shifting, almost human shape slowly takes form. Night after night it will pursue the murderer. And when the full moon rises over Babylon, it will seek a terrible vengeance ...… (more)
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The town of Babylon is home for quite a cast of characters. At it's heart, this is a supernatural ghost story, but it is also a tale of greed, the evil that men do and the disparity between the haves and the have nots. In this quiet little town, Evelyn Larkin waits for her granddaughter to come home on her bicycle from helping her teacher. Margaret Larkin never makes it across the bridge, a mere minute from her house, so close that she can even see her grandmother's window.
There's a cold blooded killer on the loose in Babylon and the murder victims aren't going to wait for the sheriff to bring justice. There is no peace for them until the killer gets what's coming.
I don't know how I would have missed out on reading this back in the 80s but I am quite pleased to have discovered it now.

( )
  IreneCole | Jul 27, 2022 |
Another super wonderful creepy, ghosty, horrific tale from Michael McDowell! I just loved it. I listened to the audio version, great narrator!!! Highly recommended if you like this kind of stuff:) ( )
  erinclark | Feb 2, 2022 |
This book was such a disappointment, especially after reading and loving Blackwater. The setting and mysterious goings on are the same, but with no character development and the characters themselves all so unlikable that one hardly cares as each meets their end in a more gory fashion than the previous. ( )
  wagnerkim | Jul 21, 2021 |

'Cold Moon Over Babylon’ is a story of violent supernatural revenge wrought on a small town in Florida after a young girl is murdered. Reading that you might be thinking 'Scary creature slasher story with screaming teens being picked off. Been there. Done that. Change channels.' but this time you'd be wrong.

'Cold Moon Over Babylon' isn't a trope twist. Published in 1980, it pre-dates most of the tropes. It isn't a something you can sit back from, munching popcorn and cheering when the person dumb enough to go into the dark cellar alone after hearing a weird noise finally gets theirs. This is horror that doesn't allow you the luxury of emotional distance, doesn't follow a well-trodden path and doesn't go away when you close the book.

This is because Michael McDowell writes with great power. He allows time for the reader to feel the pain and grief caused by the bad things that happen rather than going for the splashy thrill of the arterial spurt. He makes the people real, which makes the evil done to and by them, real.

The book reminds me of a steam train. Like that first flurry of steam and scream of the whistle when the train starts, the noise of violent death at the beginning of the book grabs the attention at once. Then movement feels slow, almost ponderous. The chaotic noise of released steam is replaced by the quiet rhythm of wheels starting to turn under power. You don't notice the speed and momentum of the train until the next bad things happen and then you realise that the train is unstoppable and is going to smash your emotions.

Babylon is a small town where the same families have known each other for generations. McDowell's descriptions of small-town life, its people and their challenges feel real. His descriptions of the sudden deaths and shocking violence that start the novel are vivid and textured. When the violence triggers a supernatural response, the response also feels real.

The most frightening force in the book isn't supernatural, it's human. Evil, twisted, repugnant but entirely human and entirely believable. That the revenge against this evil included not just returning the violence inflicted but destroying the sanity and dignity of the person being punished was deeply satisfying.

The juxtaposition of a detailed description everyday small-town life with acts of human violence and supernatural revenge amplifies the emotional impact of the killings, making the violence more tragic and the vengeance well-deserved.

The scene where the corpse of the missing girl is recovered is an example of how McDowell gives his writing power. The body recovery scene is one I've seen in countless TV crime dramas. I know how it goes. It's sad but it's the first step towards catching the bad guy. Except when McDowell writes it, all that distance disappears. I didn't see a body and evidence or hear the tick of a clockwork plot advancing. I saw raw grief. I felt the true horror that totally overwhelms the people that it strikes. I saw something broken and lost that could never be fixed or returned. I had to stop and let that pass through me before I could read more.

The plot of the book didn't go quite where I expected. The resolution it offered was as stark. It offered no comfort, just revenge and revenge, even the supernatural kind, brings only mutual destruction.

Scott Brick was the perfect choice as the narrator for this book. His tone is implacable. His accents are perfect and the voices of his characters easy to recognise. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.


https://soundcloud.com/audiolibrary-a/cold-moon-over-babylon-by-michael-mcdowell...


You may also be interested in reading McDowell's 'The Elementals' which, for me, pretty much defines Southern Gothic
( )
  MikeFinnFiction | Oct 21, 2020 |
I absolutely hated the character of Belinda, the sheriff’s teenage daughter. The way she talked, all her cutesy sayings, made me want to vomit. Seriously, I almost quit reading because of her.

This is a classic ghost story. Well written it starts a little slow, then builds to an exciting second half. Once the haunting starts it escalates quickly. I was rooting for the ghost to get revenge on her murderer. He is truly a terrible person. I liked the portrayal of small town life. When everyone is so close to everyone else, it is hard to imagine your neighbor is a murderer. ( )
  readingover50 | Jun 11, 2019 |
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Epigraph
Look down fair moon and bathe this scene,

Pour softly down night's nimbus floods on faces ghastly, swollen, purple,

On the dead on their backs with arms toss'd wide,

Pour down your unstinted nimbus sacred moon.

--Walt Whitman, Sequel to Drum-Taps
Dedication
In memory of Marian Mulkey McDowell
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One hot afternoon in July of 1965, Jim Larkin and his wife JoAnn were slowly paddling their small green boat upstream on the Styx River that drains the northwestern corner of the Florida panhandle. (Prologue)
Three roads lead out of Babylon.
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Welcome to Babylon, a typical sleepy Alabama small town, where years earlier the Larkin family suffered a terrible tragedy. Now they are about to endure another: fourteen-year-old Margaret Larkin will be robbed of her innocence and her life by a killer who is beyond the reach of the law. But something strange is happening in Babylon: traffic lights flash an eerie blue, a ghostly hand slithers from the drain of a kitchen sink, graves erupt from the local cemetery in an implacable march of terror ... And beneath the murky surface of the river, a shifting, almost human shape slowly takes form. Night after night it will pursue the murderer. And when the full moon rises over Babylon, it will seek a terrible vengeance ...

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