I recently decided to read all of Stephen King’s books, after finishing The Stand. My next choice was Salem’s Lot since it’s King’s second novel and I’ve already read the first, Carrie. I knew Salem’s Lot was about Vampires, but I had no idea about the overall plot. I think that’s probably the best way to start any horror book or film.
One of my favourite books is Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I read the book when I was in school and later studied it at sixth form and university. I like Vampire stories, and it probably wasn’t going to take much for Salem’s Lot to win me over. I really enjoyed this book. It follows Ben Mears, a writer who moves back to Jerusalem’s Lot to fight childhood fears through writing his new novel. He’s not the only new comer in town, as the mysterious Richard Straker and Kurt Barlow arrive at the same time. People go missing, and then start dying. Along with a few others Ben suspects that Barlow is a vampire and thus starts the main conflict of the novel.
The beginning of this book is very slow, mostly building up the town and the people who live there. Something I’ve noticed with both Salem’s Lot and The Stand, is that King doesn’t mind taking his time for the action to start and instead builds up the main and side characters, delicately crafting them through their past and interactions with each other. At first this seems slow and pointless, but it pays off in the end. Knowing these characters so well makes the horror that much scarier. There were a couple of points in the story where I had to remind myself that the characters as well as the town were fictional as they had been crafted so well.
Salem’s Lot is clearly inspired by Dracula, with the two sharing more than a few elements. Stephen King doesn’t shy away from this either, explaining in the introduction that the idea came from thinking about Dracula arriving in modern New York. Ben Mears also states that Matt Burke is kind of like Van Helsing at a later point in the novel. While the story isn’t original in the slightest, the way it’s presented makes it unique. The characters all feel real and I ended up being interested in them, outside of their impending doom. I think the best horror stories make you care about what the characters are up to, regardless of spooky scary things happening or not, and Salem’s Lot does this perfectly. Susan Nortan’s relationship with Ben, and arguing with her Mum. Father Callahan struggling with alcohol and losing his faith in the modern world. I cared about these characters long before vampires took centre stage.
The pace is perfectly slow throughout the whole book as well. There are deliberately long sections where Matt Burke is walking upstairs to face his suspected vampire and Father Callahan leaving the town, adding tension in the overall story. It’s a slow burn but it all pays off in the end. King builds up the suspense making each moment of actual horror that much scarier. After I reached the half way point I couldn’t put the book down and couldn’t wait to see what happened next.
Of course it wouldn’t be a horror vampire book without gore and violence, and Salem’s Lot has plenty of that. There is one death in particular towards the end, that I won’t spoil, involving stairs, that is spectacularly gruesome and really made my skin crawl imagining it.
I can’t recommend this book enough if you’re a fan of the genre. It’s a long slow read, but a brilliant read. The characters make the whole novel worth it.
Thanks for reading,