Author: Stephen King
Pages: 751 (paperback) (and I have a few words to say about this later)
Published: November 1st 2011 (first published 1975)
Published by: Hodder and Stoughton
"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 . . .
Ben Mears spent a few years in Jerusalem's Lot when he was growing up, living with his aunt. He had a traumatic experience which haunts him to this day. Take also that his wife recently died in a motorcycle accident, and he decides to come back The Lot for some cathartic writing. Unfortunately, he finds himself caught up in all kinds of trouble which even he - as a successful author - never could have imagined. Because the house which is the source of his nightmares is occupied again, and strange things are happening to the residents of 'Salem's Lot.
I started this book a couple weeks ago, and finished it off as part of Dewey's 24-hour read-a-thon last weekend. It took me a while to really get into it, and sitting and reading for an extended period of time was exactly the impetus I needed to finish it off. By no means is it a bad book: there's suspense and intrigue and vampires (proper ones; no sparkly vampires here!). But I think the problem is the same for a lot of Stephen Kings' books.
His complex stories are amazing. I really like that you don't just see what's going on for the heroes, but random little snippets from around the town too. It makes the story fuller, gives you a better sense of just what's going on. He doesn't just do it here, but in Needful Things and The Stand (and probably more that I haven't read/can't think of right now). But with all the setting up it does mean that the story takes a while to actually get going, and the names of all those people are pretty difficult to keep track of. For me at least. I usually have to rely on what's going on before I know which person they are rather than the name being mentioned and knowing what's already gone on for them. Of course, as I've already said this does overall provide a richer background, but it doesn't have its disadvantages as well.
There were a couple of seriously creepy moments in this book, but nothing that had me sleeping with the light on. It's more implied terror here. You know things are going on and can see the effects of it, but there is very little of that side of it that is actually documented in the story. And, in all honesty, I don't think King is ever going to top The Shining for scare factor. Although I do still have a couple to read before my final judgement is reach!
Ben Mears is a perfectly good leading man. He's intelligent and thinks things through, and isn't willing to take unnecessary risks. He likes to have everything laid out and clear in his mind before acting, even if situations do get away from him sometimes. His supporting crew are probably more interesting than him, though. Not so much Susan Norton, but Father Callahan, Matt Burke and Mark Petrie all made very good reading.
My final point is a dig at the publishers more than the story. If you buy the Hodder and Staughton version with the cover be warned that the page count is a bit deceiving in that the story finishes with about 150 pages to go. What follows are two short stories serving as prequel and sequel to 'Salem's Lot, and then a load of 'deleted scenes'. Quite interesting? Well, maybe, except that the two short stories are included in Night Shift which I read a matter of weeks ago. And from movies, I've learned that deleted scenes are usually deleted for a reason. I can only imagine the same holds true for books. There is no mention of these anywhere on the blurb, and I was very disappointed when I read the last paragraph and realised that was the end of the story, then confused about what the rest of the book was for, then disappointed again. You have been warned!
But as I said, I can't really mark the book down for that. So all in all, a very good read with generally good characters, if a little slow moving and maybe not quite as terrifying as it could have been.