We take vampires in our literary settings very much for granted nowadays. Whether it be with thanks to Edward, Angel and friends, or Anita Blake, Buffy and cohorts, such novels dealing with this subject matter are common place. Then there’s good, old fashioned Dracula. Well, he has to factor into the equation somewhere, right?
Granted, the prevalence of vamps may not be a bad thing. I am not going to bemoan choice or a widening of the genre by any means, regardless of what some of the hardcore horror fiction contingent may protest is a watering down over the years. Let’s be honest, there’s enough room for all flavours of horror sub-fiction, including that which is fang related.
However, ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King is a novel that blazed trails in that area of the horror fiction field when first published in 1975, whilst still paying homage to its main source of influence, Dracula, and doing a damn fine job of scaring the reader in the process. A highly watchable 1979 TV mini-series adaptation followed, and in 2004 it was again given what I consider fairly decent TV treatment.
Author Ben Mears returns to his childhood hometown of Jerusalem’s Lot following personal tragedy, and here he soon reconnects spiritually and personally with the town and its inhabitants. A key factor in his return is the eerie and domineering Marsten House, which left haunting impressions on him as a child.
Ben intends to write a book about the house, hoping to conquer his demons in the process. However, others, newly arrived in town also have an interest in the abandoned house, among other things. Barlow, and the rather curious Straker appear as buyers of the house. Both are reported business partners, and are opening an antique store in town. Barlow isn’t seen in public however. Insert ‘muahahaha’ here.
As people in the town begin to disappear – starting with youth Ralphie Glick – strange things unravel, and Ben soon has to begin to fight not just perceived demons of his past, but real evil in the present as well. Ben teams up with a number of townsfolk in his battle against evil, and it’s not long before the forces do start to stack up in number and power.
This is an enjoyable and well paced novel, not prone to some of the excessive descriptive prose that can occasionally spill onto the pages of King’s subsequent works, and really did add worthy content to the vampire literary canon.
The characters are well written, you feel sympathetic to them, their plight, and as a result feel more tied into the town and its issues – especially as they become more pressing and harrowing as the book progresses.
The atmosphere is so aptly crafted also, and two scenes stick in my mind from this book long after having closed the cover. One involves a young child scratching at a window in the dead of night, the other of Ben’s memories of the Marsten House as a child. Both are emblematic of King’s prowess in the field of writing. And damn scary too, they are.
Wondered what it would be like if the vampire of Stoker’s Dracula ever decided to set foot in sleepy mid-town America? Check out ‘Salem’s Lot for yourself and find out. You won’t be disappointed.
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