First published in 1978, Amok tells the story of a gigantic Japanese soldier who, during the final days of World War II, was ordered to stay in The Philippines and not stop fighting until he got word that the war had ended. Unfortunately, the soldier never found out about Hiroshima and Nagasaki so, decades after Japan’s surrender, he’s still living in the jungle, sneaking around at night with his sword and killing anyone who he comes across.
When he kills the brother of Mike Braden, Braden returns to his estranged family’s tobacco plantation, determined to get revenge. Braden’s a Vietnam vet, a soldier much like the predator who killed his brother. Mike is obsessed with ending the soldier’s reign of terror but no one else believes him when he claims that there’s a rampaging monster — The Amok, as the local villagers call it — in the jungle. To the other Americans in The Philippines, the Amok is just a legend. To Mike and its victims, the Amok is all too real.
Amok is one of those paperback that I always used to see in my aunt’s collection. (She had a huge stack of paperbacks in her bedroom closet and I used to go through them whenever we were visiting, mostly so I could “borrow” the racier ones.) I always found myself fascinated by the cover of Amok, which featured an unseen figure holding up a bloody sword. It looked really scary!
Having now finally read the novel, I can say that it is effectively scary. Amok is a relentlessly-paced story, one that doesn’t take its time getting to the blood and the guts and which does a great job of leaving you to wonder when the Amok is going to strike next. It touches on a lot of important themes — colonialism, war, racism — but it doesn’t really explore any of them in depth. And that’s fine! Ultimately, the job of a book like Amok is to generate suspense and to frighten the reader and Amok does a very good job of doing that!
It’s interesting to note that, when the book was first published, the cover announced that it was the scariest thing since Jaws. To be honest, Amok has a lot in common with Jaws. Like the giant shark, the Amok is a force of nature and one that many people refuse to believe exists despite the fact that he obviously does. It’s easy to imagine Amok being adapted into a Jaws-like film but, strangely enough, it doesn’t appear that it ever happened. Somehow, with the hundreds of slasher films that were made in the late 70s and 80s, no one ever got around to making a movie out of Amok, a book that seems like it was practically written so that someone would pick up the film rights.
Even if it never was turned into a movie, it’s still an effective page turner. Those of you looking for a mix of blood, guts, sex, and manly man talk will enjoy it.