Name: Salem’s Lot
Author: Stephen King
Number of Pages: 768 (Kindle Edition)
Published: 11th December 2008 by Hodder
“Turn off the television—in fact, why don’t you turn off all the lights except for the one over your favourite chair?—and we’ll talk about vampires here in the dim. I think I can make you believe in them.” Stephen King, from the Introduction.
‘Salem’s Lot is a small New England town with the usual quota of gossips, drinkers, weirdos and respectable folk. Of course there are tales of strange happenings—but not more than in any other town its size.
Ben Mears, a moderately successful writer, returns to the Lot to write a novel based on his early years, and to exorcise the terrors that have haunted him since childhood. The event he witnessed in the house now rented by a new resident. A newcomer with a strange allure. A man who causes Ben some unease as things start to happen: a child disappears, a dog is brutally killed—nothing unusual, except the list starts to grow.
Soon surprise will turn to bewilderment, bewilderment to confusion and finally to terror . . . – from Goodreads
I arrived at Salem’s Lot via the Dark Tower series. For this reason I went into this book thinking that it was Father Callahan’s story, which turned out not to be the case. He plays a larger role in the later stages of the book, and it is long enough since I finished my quest for the Tower that I couldn’t recall all the detail given in those stories regarding what had happened to Callahan during his time in the Lot.
The central character of this novel is Ben Mears, a writer who returns to Salem’s Lot to write a new book and to exorcise the demons of an experience during his youth, when he dared venture into a real haunted house, the Marsten House, where owner Hubie Marsten had killed his wife and then himself years previously.
The house is amazing, it’s an ominous, sinister almost life-like character in itself, and every scene taking place there leaves you just that little on edge. They very idea of this eerie old house looming over the rest of the Lot is a little intimidating, and that’s before we find out exactly what has taken up residence inside.
It’s a while before people realise what is going on in the Lot, and even then, when people start disappearing and dying in unexplained circumstances, it is a very small group who band together and suspend disbelief. Ben is accompanied by Jimmy Cody, a doctor, and his main ally is teacher Matt Burke, who never doubts for a moment the nature of the evil facing the town. Mark Petrie is a young boy who witnesses first hand the results of an encounter with the ever-absent Barlow, and he willingly joins the fight to rid the town of the vampire.
So many creepy moments, this is the perfect read for those dark nights of Autumn, darkness drawing in earlier as we edge towards winter, and the changing seasons are described in the book really well, as are the regular snapshots of this little community living their little lives totally oblivious to the all-consuming evil lurking just out of sight.
Straker is the perfect human representative for the vampire Barlow. He’s charismatic and charming but there’s clearly something dangerous about him too, it’s just something that only certain members of the community are aware of until it’s too late. Barlow himself is enigmatic, avoiding scrutiny, but when he does appear and there’s the showdown with Callahan it’s a brilliant scene.
I loved the growing sense of the impossible as the whole town becomes under the thrall of Barlow and his evil, and the odds being so stacked against our dwindling band of heroes, who suffer new horrors with each new realisation about the vampires and the extent of their reach. There is always a very real possibility that the heroes just might not win the day, which makes it a real page turner, because you just have to know.
The epilogue is a suitably dismal vision, because even when you think it’s over, it offers the possibility that this isn’t actually the case. I loved the section set in the 1850s, so creepy, so atmospheric, done through letters back and forth, and showing that the horror surrounding the Lot spans the generations and will probably never leave. I could have read a whole full length novel set in this time period and loved it.