Originally published October 1975
Welcome to Jerusalem's Lot (Salem's Lot for short). A sleepy, quiet, run down town. Some may even say a dead town. A town where the biggest excitement in memory is a fire that overtook the town years ago. Well...isn't that about to change.
As we begin Salem's Lot we are introduced to Ben Mears, a writer and native of Salem's Lot. We learn fairly quickly that Ben has some "interesting" memories of his childhood. He's come back to Salem's Lot to face his childhood fears and write a novel he hopes will put him in the big time. In typical SK fashion, we are introduced to a plethora of characters right off the bat (so many in fact, you may find yourself thinking "Who is this person again?" as you read). It becomes very apparent as the story progresses, that one of the main characters introduced is an actual house. The Marsten House. It sits high above town almost staring down on the residents. It is this house that played a central role in Ben's childhood trauma. Ben returns to try to face what he saw at the house as a child (while sneaking into the house on a dare) only to find the house has been rented out. Who are the mysterious new residents who bought the house? We'll soon find out.
The interesting thing with Salem's Lot is that you spend the entire first half of the book sort of meandering along. We don't quite know where the story is going, and only get small clues and snippets as to where SK will be taking us. That is where I start to fall in love with this book. Think of all the folklore you've heard or learned about Vampires. SK uses all those superstitions to hint at the shitstorm he is about to deal us. But more on that in a minute.
Though they are brief, readers start to get glimpses of the "men" who purchased the Marsten House- Straker and Barlow. It becomes pretty clear early on that there is something odd about these new residents of Salem's Lot. We are given pictures of them "introducing" themselves to the residents of the town. Just what is wrong with Barlow? So charismatic and handsome but..... In addition, we learn more about the Marsten House in that it seems to welcome evil and bad things. Coincidence? I think not. We also meet some other wonderful characters. One being the child Mark Petrie. We'll see through many different novels, SK puts much faith in his child characters. Mark Petrie being no exception!
Let's get back to our "superstitions" and see where they lead us. Many of these are mentioned in SOME form and left sitting for the reader to guess the implication1. Avoidance of light.
2. Excessive daytime sleepiness and draining of energy.
3. Pale complexion
4. Bewitching of people's minds to make them under your control.
5. Having to "invite" someone into your house.
6. Wearing a cross around a neck
There are many more mentioned in the book, but a clear picture is painted of the trouble that has come to Salem's Lot. Vampires! Once this revelation is fully spelled out, well, the train wreck has left the station! There is basically no stopping the chain of events and the transformation of this little town into a town of the undead!
It is at this point in the book, that things take another shift and we enter into one of my favorite themes that SK will continue to write about in multiple books. SK can try to complicate the plot with the side stories of families and loved ones, but ultimately Salem's Lot boils down to an old fashioned Good vs. Evil novel. It is at this point in the book we are introduced to Fr. Callahan, the local priest who is flawed in his own ways. Through Fr. Callahan the reader is taken on a journey of faith. Can a man of the cloth have enough faith in his religion to battle an ultimate form of evil. Or will his faith waiver and allow evil to conquer? During one conflict between Barlow and Fr. Callahan, Barlow taunts the priest with
Then will you throw away your cross and face me on even terms- black against white?
It is an interesting turn of events on how Fr. Callahan's story progresses. He faces off against Barlow yet doesn't win! Rather than rebuild his courage and try again, he tucks his tail between his legs and hightails it out of town. So much for the faith of the church. It will be shown, that the faith of a child, is a completely different story. Ben teams up with Mark Petrie to take on, well, the town! Again, I cannot stress how wonderful SK creates his characters who are children. They have hearts of adults and intelligence! A strong faith in "it has to work or else" is all it takes for these two to face the most horrible things imaginable. It is a wonderfully climatic ending and showdown for our "heroes" who face Barlow.
Overall, just a fantastic story. The plot is amazing. Though the novel starts off with a slow build, the climax (which is really the entire second half of the book) keeps you on the edge of your seat and wanting more. The scenes that are painted through SK's writing leave you feeling as if you are within the story. It is hard to imagine that this is just his second novel. There are great things to come!
Salem's Lot movie:
I know I mentioned I would comment on the movies when they applied. Salem's Lot was made into a movie but it has been so long since I have seen it I don't feel like I can make any honest remarks about it.
I do remember being scared by the scene when Ralphie Glick comes to try to visit Mark Petrie and get him to let him into his room. Well done. Other than that- I got nothing. Clearly it is time for a rewatching.