I freely admit it — I'm a huge Stephen King fan. I have read most of what he has ever written, barring a few movie scripts and some minor publications that are either not within his usual scope or just too hard to find. That is why this review is not so much about the book itself, but rather a review of the audiobook in particular, the performance and the presentation.
Simon and Schuster Audio has produced the audio version of Salem's Lot, a book that was first published in 1975, and has since been described as one of the most innovative and terrifying vampire novels ever written. We all know Dracula, of course, and though every vampire story since that one draws some inspiration from it, on one level or another, Salem's Lot is truly original. As with The Stand, Salem's Lot is classed by fans as among the absolute best works by Stephen King. The man himself states that there's something a little depressing about hearing that you did your best work over 20 years ago, but, even so, it's probably true.
Simon and Schuster Audio's production of Salem's Lot is 17 hours and 31 minutes long, unabridged (in this listener's opinion, the only way to go) and a glorious seventeen-and-a-half hours it is. Ron McLarty is the narrator of choice, clearly being up for the challenge after narrating a whole series of David Baldacci and James Lee Burke books. McLarty is from Rhode Island, and is a playwright, novelist and actor — many probably remember him as Judge Wright on Law and Order — and has spent a lot of hours in recording studios of various shapes and sizes.
Salem's Lot is a story that from the very beginning sets out to be the definitive vampire story of our time, a long and sweeping tale of the nature of evil and the struggle against it, the sacrifice of loved ones for the cause and the price the individual pays for the fight, and the scars it leaves on both soul and body. Gruesome images of neighbors-turned-vampires dragged into the sunlight to cause boiling skin and excruciating pain, the haunting evil afterimages that linger in the house on the hilltop overlooking the town of Jerusalem's Lot (named after a pig, by the way) and the journey of a writer and and the boy to end it once and for all is delivered in McLarty's sonorous voice with simultaneous upsetting gravity and a calming "story by the fireplace" feel. It's perhaps hard to imagine those two going hand in hand like that, but it's the impression one is left with.
At the end of Part Two, or rather the beginning of Part Three of Salem's Lot, King has included "The Emperor of Ice Cream", by Wallace Stevens, and with the quote from George Seferis ("This column has a hole — can you see the Queen of the Dead?"), it combines with McLarty's voice to bring chills and goosebumps. I actually found myself rewinding to hear the poem over again. Three times.
In all, Salem's Lot is a striking book, a haunting tale of vampires and evil, the struggle for good and love and the ultimate revenge on the dark side of humanity — and inhumanity. Some critics might accuse the author of the usual crimes; shallow female characters, oversimplifying the action and complicating the plot. This has been Stephen King's style through many, many years however, and it's worked. Why? Because the reader can easily identify with the characters, their thoughts and feelings, and their actions in the circumstances in which they find themselves. It might go to show that it's King that has the right idea, not the critics. McLarty does a fantastic job of keeping the right pace throughout the story, and if you're a fan of audiobooks, then this is a "must-have."