Title: ‘Salem’s Lot
Author: Stephen King
Page Count/Review Word Count: 752
‘Salem’s Lot was a great little read, and while it is quite clearly inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, King doesn’t exactly hide that Stoker’s work was an influence. In fact, at the end of the book, in the afterword, he talks about how ‘Salem’s Lot came about and that, combined with a bonus story or two and a whole heap of extra scenes, actually made up the last quarter of the book. But it was nice to have it, a little like bonus scenes on a DVD. You don’t have to read it if you don’t want to, but it will help to enhance your enjoyment.
In terms of the plot, the story follows what happens when a vampire named Barlow decides to establish his claim on a small Maine town. Barlow, accompanied by Straker, his human second-in-command, decides to move into an old house with a bad reputation, and strange things quickly start to happen to the town and its inhabitants.
It’s a creepy read from the master of horror, but it wasn’t so scary that it stopped me from sleeping. In fact, I thought that Dracula was scarier, although I’ll admit that I was younger when I first read it. I think I’ve read so much King now that I’m immune to being scared by him – which is good, because I can concentrate on his epic story lines. ‘Salem’s Lot might not be as long as some of his other releases – The Stand and Under the Dome spring to mind here – but there’s still plenty of growth and character development, and you wouldn’t be able to tell that it’s one of his earlier releases.
I also liked the way that the characters were fallible. Father Callaghan springs to mind here, and while the alcoholic priest trope has been overused, King has this knack for taking cliches and turning them around, morphing them into something new that we’ve never seen before. If anything, the annoying thing is the way in which so many of his characters are writers, and there’s a writer character here, too. That said, it’s handy to have a writer around when you’re dealing with a vampire infestation, especially if you need someone who knows all of the legends from popular literature.
The plot has plenty of twists and turns, but I did feel as though the ending came on too quickly, and that the bonus bits could well have been included to provide a sense of closure for the reader. For me, it worked the other way around. It felt as though the ending happened halfway through the book, and that it was followed by a bunch of bonus bits that, while interesting, felt a little weird after such an abrupt ending. Stoker’s Dracula felt like it had more of a build-up, which is strange because I’d guess that King’s book is probably longer.
But it leaves a pleasant aftertaste, which is what you should hope for from all decent books. It might have taken me over a week to read it – I wasn’t reading as much as usual due to various commitments – but it never felt like a burden or a chore. It was always pleasant, addictive, with each sub-chapter leaving the reader demanding more. A lot of King’s work is like that, but I felt it more keenly here, and it was just the kind of read that I needed – spooky, sublime and a little different to most other books on the market. It was refreshing to see a new take on the classic vampire, and I’m glad that it came from King and not some B-list author who milked the vampire trend for all it’s worth.
Overall, then, I’d definitely recommend ‘Salem’s Lot, and it’s worth going out of your way to get hold of a copy. If you can get a cheap copy, like I did, then it’s a no-brainer. It’s earned its rightful place in the vampire canon, and it has literary merit in its own special way. It’s one of those rare books that can be enjoyed by anyone – unlike some of King’s other stories, you don’t need to be a certain type of person to have some fun with it. In fact, this is arguably one of his best books to start with, because it provides a decent introduction to King’s work and his style without overwhelming the reader. Read it!