other McCammon I've read. Lots of telling, telling, telling—over 500 pages of telling—and no showing. On a line-to-line basis McCammon's not a bad writer, he's just bland and pedestrian, with little snap, wit, or insight in his prose. Characters, while plentiful, are stock folks, and the story too thinly reads like 'Salem's Lot transferred to the opposite coast. His main weakness is telling the readers what they already know, and this chokes the story up, slows it to a crawl. Too many characters doubt for too long, or wonder aloud at their life-threatening predicament, or argue a moot point. I skimmed all that junk, looking for nuggets of story, of narrative, of bloodshed, to clear out all that baggage. There are moments, to be sure, that work, but far too few. Like too many '80s horror novels, They Thirst feels overstuffed for no discernible reason.
Pocket Books reprint, Oct 1988, Rowena Morrill cover art
It's not a terrible set-up, but I tire of these broad scenarios with dozens of characters and locales. Fortunately things begin to tighten up once Prince Vulkan—how do people not know a guy with a name like that is a vampire?—appears on the scene. As he explains his nefarious plans to his two fave-rave henchmen his mind wanders back through his past, to his becoming undead 500 years ago. Here McCammon does some solid writing, even though he's doing nothing new really, but Vulkan's drive to become king vampire is well-evoked, and the fact that Vulkan was made nosferatu at a petulant 17 years of age, is unique. Were that there were even more of these kinds of tiny inventive touches! The final third or maybe quarter of They Thirst is made up of four vampire hunters tracking the creatures to their ultimate lair high in the Hollywood Hills. This is Castle Kronsteen, a massive edifice built on a cliff by '40s monster-movie star Orlon Kronsteen, who was found murdered in it, decapitated no less, 15 years prior to the events of the novel. Yes: Kronsteen's function is the same as the Marsten's House in 'Salem's Lot.
Sphere Books UK, 1981
Indeed, King's shadow looms large, too large. They Thirst reads like a combo of The Stand and 'Salem's Lot, a vampire apocalypse loosed upon the world. Young Tommy is basically Mark Petrie, a loner kid with a penchant for Lovecraft and horror movies; rising TV comedian Wes Richter is Larry Underwood; Padre Silvera is Father Callahan (although he's not a drunken coward); homicide detective Andy Palatazin is plagued by his own childhood demons (which comprises the novel's prologue) like Ben Mears. There's even a plucky tabloid reporter as in The Dead Zone. I kinda liked "Ratty," a burned-out grime-encrusted leftover hippy living in the LA sewer system, who helps Tommy and Palatazin navigate the underground tunnels but first he tries to sell them hallucinogenics. Their subterranean journey reminded me of the Lincoln Tunnel chapters in The Stand—surely one of King's greatest sequences of terror—but is nowhere near its heights in execution. The novel's climax, a literal earthshaker, is mighty but reeks of deus ex machina.
Sphere Books UK, 1990
They Thirst is not a bad horror novel, it's not insulting like, say, The Keep or The Cellar, and I guess I can see how so many readers value it; but to me it is an unnecessary horror novel. I ask myself: had I first read this book when I was a teenager, would I have enjoyed it? I'm not sure I would have: too much like King, not sexy at all, nothing new is done with vampire lore, and its violence is standard (although more than once I sensed an interesting John Carpenter movie going on). Probably in 1981 the book made more of an impact; Avon Books certainly went all out in promoting it so could it be I'm being too hard on it? Maybe I am. Will I read one of McCammon's later books, one that he's not embarrassed by? Maybe I will.