Book Review: Finding Fear in ‘Salem’s Lot ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

'Salem's Lot

‘Salem’s Lot: another small Maine town with a big secret, courtesy of Stephen King. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is the ninth Stephen King book I’ve read (after The Shining, Cujo, On Writing, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Blaze, Rose Madder, Under the Dome, and The Eyes of the Dragon), and I rank it as the best piece of fiction in that group (On Writing is nonfiction, and is the best book about writing I’ve ever read).

To be fair, it’s been probably 15 years since I read Cujo and The Shining, and that was before I realized how good a writer King is, before I became a big fan of his work, so I should probably go back and read those two again. Nonetheless, ‘Salem’s Lot is a wonderfully suspenseful piece of writing, a novel about vampires before such a thing was in vogue—written 40 years ago, but way better than Twilight.

I won’t say much about the plot, since you can easily find synopses elsewhere, except to say that King expounds on some themes common to his work—small Maine towns hiding big secrets (but not for long)—while tackling a modern rendition of a literary classic (Dracula). He does so with great success, beginning the book with a scene from near the end of the story to jack up the intrigue level, then going back and artfully setting the scene—characters, places, and a healthy number of well-placed hints at the bad stuff that’s going down (or about to go down).

The pacing in this book is great—it slows a bit after the beginning vignette, but not too much, then King ramps up the action at the right pace, letting out just enough rope at each turn to keep you satisfied while pulling you deeper into the story.

There’s a bit of gore, but it’s necessary, and not overdone. And be warned: King has no problem killing off key characters. Speaking of characters, King’s development of them is spot-on; being a small-town native myself, I’m familiar with rural life, and King’s portraits of small-town people and places are right on the money, not to mention that the personalities he creates here are engaging.

A friend of mine kept looking over his shoulder as he read this book–at night, with all the lights out–and though I didn’t experience that same level of fright, the story held me in its suspenseful grip throughout. If you like a good scare, take a trip to that quaint little Maine town of ‘Salem’s Lot.

Rating: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

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