Marsten House represents a childhood horror for writer Ben Mears, and he returns to Salem’s Lot to put that horror to rest. Ben doesn’t expect to fall in love with Susan or make friends with teacher Matt, but he is still seen as an outsider and not to be trusted. When a few disappearances occur, it’s natural that the village folk see Ben as the one responsible and he is promptly questioned. It doesn’t help that the subject of his latest story ties him in with the infamous Marsten House.
Purportedly a haunted house story based on Dracula and flesh-eating vampires, Salem’s Lot delivers with an eerie setting and a chilling atmosphere in the first few chapters, with creepy dialogue. There was a lot of planning and research in evidence – an apt background to the unexplained mysteries and horrors of the Marsten House. Stephen King delivered with the right pace, slowing down to add character background or speeding up events to the inevitable discovery … a discovery which the reader suspects but the characters can only fear the supernatural. I thought this part of the narrative was artfully done.
From chapter three it became clear to me that Stephen King likes to delve deeply into the lives and histories of numerous characters. (Salem’s Lot is the first Stephen King book read, so this is new to me.) There were sinister plans in action concerning the renovation of Marsten House, but I did struggle to remember the character names and the respective facts about them, and so could not enjoy Salem’s Lot to the maximum.
SPOILER: I did think the focus of the story switched in a way I was less comfortable with; I wanted to learn about Marsten House and uncover secrets that could link it with vampires but it ended up being more about the latter.
When the focus returned to Ben Mears and the story sped up, I read with relish. The writing had suspense and didn’t need to work hard for my attention. I finished Salem’s Lot not with ‘Ah, isn’t that nice’, but with an equally satisfying ‘I’ve been through some ordeal, and I want to go through it again’.