For the review of the 1975 novel 'Salem's Lot, click here. This is the review for the short story included in the 1977 short story collection, Night Shift.
It’s easy to read "Jerusalem’s Lot" and dismiss it as a rough draft for the novel ‘Salem’s Lot, especially when one is reading King’s books in order. I mean, it is definitely a less mature work of art. The epistolary format merely apes Dracula and smacks of freshman English term paper. But hidden within the cliche format lies a creepy tale that is just as compelling as the novel.
What I found most interesting was the way King used the concept of the haunted house in both works. In ‘Salem’s Lot, the Marsten House is a feint, a sort of MacGuffin that draws the reader, and the novel’s primary characters, into the story, yet by the end of the novel the Marsten House’s role is marginal. The final battle doesn’t even happen there. Similarly, in "Jerusalem’s Lot," Chapewaite is the beacon that draws Charles Boone to town, but as the story unfolds the House proves to be just that, the bait that the broken, forgotten town of Jerusalem’s Lot uses to lure the next generation of Boones. Other than a few humdrum haunted house theatrics, the house plays zero role in he narrative after the initial draw.
These are only two examples of a trend in King’s canon, where he uses haunted house tropes as secondary scares in larger works. Other good examples are: the house on Neibolt Street in It, the portal house in The Wastelands, or the haunted house atmospherics in the short "Graveyard Shift". What’s odd is that throughout his career Stephen King has basically plumbed every conceivable fear in the Western canon (vampires, mummies, werewolves, etc), but he’s only really done them once or twice. Sure, vampires also show up in The Dark Tower series and It, but no trope is returned to as often as haunted houses. Like a chef who puts a signature ingredient in every dish, King seems to have so much respect for the trope that he uses it repeatedly, a spice that heightens the tension in other works.
Regardless, the haunted house in "Jerusalem’s Lot" quickly pales in comparison to the thrust of the main narrative, as Boone discovers a whole haunted town in the Maine backwoods, a town with a decidedly disturbing history. Equal parts Silent Hill and The Hills Have Eyes, "Jerusalem’s Lot" is a well-written, tense story that transcends its uninspired narrative format to craft a brilliantly-limned world that is creepy, if not a little sad.