This was Stephen King’s second novel and he has discussed it in interviews as being his attempt at the Great American novel in the spirit of Moby Dick meets Bram Stockers Dracula and also his favourite novel. This is in many ways a classic vampire story with all the traditional tropes you would expect. Ben Mears arrives in Jerusalem’s Lot, known as ‘Salem’s Lot to the locals, a small town in Maine. He grew up in the town and has memories he needs to expunge from a childhood experience in the old Marsten House that overlooks the town. He intends to write his latest novel whilst he is here and quickly strikes up a relationship with a local girl, Susan Norton.
The Marsten House has been bought by Richard Straker, on behalf of his master Mr Barlow. Straker is your typical Vampire familiar; strange, bald with dark deep set eyes. They set up an antique shop in town to everybody’s surprise given none of the residents can afford the furniture. This is all a front of course and soon a child goes missing which is the start of events far more sinister. The bodycount builds up with deaths left right and centre. No one is spared from the glare of the Vampire in ‘Salems Lot. People start to disappear but no one notices at first due to the usual small town comings. The narrator notes that the introduction of TV in people’s homes has stopped neighbourhood get-togethers. The story is set in the 1970s.
Stephen King brings forth a huge cast of characters to paint his small town US backwater world. He is the master of bringing to the fore the inner workings, secrets and gossip in small town America. Chapter 3 itself is 53 pages of small town minutiae jumping from resident to resident over the space of a full day. From milkman to school bus driver he builds a picture of what it’s like to live there.
A small group of characters figure out what is going on and attempt to defeat the Vampire. Not all will survive. Ben and Susan befriend an English school teacher, Matt Burke, Matt’s Doctor, Jimmy Cody and the priest, Father Callaghan. A young boy, Mark Petrie, also gets mixed up with the gang. He has seen his friend Danny Glick appear (unbelievably) at his bedroom window as a vampire early on. His young open mind (and as a keen reader of comics) realises what is going on and begins to investigate.
This is a fun read and touches on all the vampire lore you would expect and some I never knew. From the undead sleeping in coffins, to the use of holy water, and the use of wooden stakes that must pierce the heart of the vampire or he will rise again. We also see Vampires hissing and burning from the use of a cross, especially by one who is devout. One that was new to me was the way to frighten a vampire is to paint white angel eyes over the real eyes of a black dog and to ensure the vampire never returns you must then cut off his head and stuff his mouth with garlic and turn it face down in the coffin. The coffin must be weighted and thrown in running water.
A great article from the Guardian discusses ‘Salems Lot here. My edition also included the short story “One for the Road”, a sequel to ‘Salem’s Lot published a year later and the Prequel “Jerusalem’s Lot”. Both were published in Stephen Kings’s short story collection “Night Shift”.
© The Outlands Review