As you will have noticed by now I’m a huge fan of traditional vampire tales. That is to say, stories with serious bite: intricate and thrilling plots, well rounded characters, vampires that are terrifying rather than teenage. The horror has been sucked from the vampire novel as surely as Lestat once sucked the life from Louis. Despite this, every now and then a rare (blood) gem of a book will be released that perfectly captures the original essence of the vampel, and every now and then we need to go back to the old classics and remind ourselves exactly what that essence looks like.
Stephen King’s epic outing ‘Salem’s Lot is perfect for this in many ways. As one would expect from King, it’s a scary book. It’s one of those page turning chill-factor novels that’s creepy to the core and thick with foreboding from start to finish. King works in all the hallmarks of the classic vampel, from stakes to coffins to crosses and vampiric hypnosis. King understands far better than most exactly what a vampire story is, and should be. Unlike a lot of authors (especially those who fall into the YA/Paranormal Romance genres), King has a firm grasp on the fact that the core of a good vampel is that vampires are vile creatures of the night who prey upon the innocent AND YET there are forces of equal and opposing good in the world that take on the monsters lurking in the darkness. A truly spectacular vampire tale has evil aplenty coupled with everyday people looking right into the fact of that darkness, screaming their lungs out, then doing whatever it takes to slay the monster. What will people, normal people, do when faced with such evil? How will they react? What are their limits and can they surpass them? Can they set aside their petty differences and come together to best a common foe? Who lives, who dies, and more importantly, what does it take to kill a vampire? Is it something you can do and retain your humanity, or does it take a personal sacrifice of such magnitude that you skirt the edges of being a monster yourself?
The best vampiels – and indeed the best horror stories in general – have always asked, and successfully answered these questions. They are the same questions that make zombie movies and The Walking Dead so compelling. The defeat of inhuman creatures require inhuman acts of bravery, endurance, and often sacrifice. ‘Salem’s Lot pulls this off spectacularly.
And of course, this in a King novel. Which means a certain level of skill where writing and characters are concerned. If you’re a fan of King this is a must-read, and even if you’re not, even if you’re not particularly a fan of vampire novels, you should read this book. It’s one of those rare and bloody gems that just can’t be missed…