I haven’t read any of Stephen King’s new stuff, that people either seem to love or hate, but his older stuff is kind of comforting, in a weird way. You know at least the general outline of what you’re going to get: a mess of characters to remember, something menacing, a small town in Maine, and bad things happening to all those characters you just got sorted out (especially to kids). ‘Salem’s Lot follows the pattern, and does it well.
Writer Ben Mears comes to ‘Salem’s Lot to work on a new book. He’d spent some time there as a boy and hopes to recapture some of those childhood memories – even the bad ones. He’d seen something scary at the local haunted house as a kid, and wants to confront those fears and maybe write about them. Except the old homeowner is long dead, and someone even worse has moved in. (It’s not a spoiler to say it’s vampires, right? Everybody knows this is King’s vampire book? I hope?)
People start dying and/or disappearing, and Ben and the local English teacher are the only ones who suspect/believe the truth. It’s up to them (plus some sidekicks they pick up along the way, including the requisite little boy) to stop the creepy Dracula-figure in the haunted house.
This is solid, dependable Stephen King. It’s good but not great, easy to read, tries to philosophize a bit about the nature of evil, etc. I have two small nitpicks. There are SO many characters. He tries to people the town with actual, you know, people, and make them interesting and give them backstories, and that’s very admirable. But there are SO many of them, and I couldn’t keep them all straight, and when they started dying I couldn’t figure out why I should try to. And there’s a Mark and a Matt and a Mike, which I kept getting confused in the laundry list of ‘Salem’s Lot residents.
Then, one of the character traits assigned to the English teacher (Matt, I think), is that he’s losing his hearing. He mentions it over and over, and Ben has to turn Matt’s music down when he goes to visit. And yet, the pivotal scene where Matt finally starts to believe that something hinky’s going on is when he invites a sick friend to stay in his guest room. He wakes to the sound of scratching on the guest room window, and hears his sick friend (through two closed doors) invite the vampire into the house. It’s all very suspenseful and stuff, but I kept thinking there’s no way he would’ve heard any of that. Not a big deal, I know, except it was mentioned so much before that.
So, if you like older-school Stephen King and somehow missed this one (as I did), it’s about what you’d expect, which is not bad at all.