When I first read THEY THIRST (1981), by Robert McCammon, I thought, “Oh, this is just a pastiche of ‘SALEM’S LOT transplanted to California.” In each book, an ancient vampire leaves the Old World to seek new blood in an unsuspecting American community. Where Stephen King’s vampire lord takes over an isolated town in Maine, McCammon’s Prince Conrad Vulkan creates an undead army to overrun Los Angeles. Thirty years later, I have to acknowledge that the epic scope of McCammon’s novel gives it a different tone from King’s. Just as King vividly portrays the ambiance of small-town Maine, McCammon immerses the reader in his Southern California setting. A cast of multi-ethnic heroes and villains joins in combat. The inner circle of vampire hunters includes a Hispanic priest and a Hungarian American whose family fled the old country after a vampire attack. Vulkan establishes his lair in a castle built by a fabulously rich film celebrity. The story climaxes with an earthquake, a storm, and a tidal wave. King’s master vampire just wants to turn ‘Salem’s Lot into a safe haven for his kind. Vulkan’s ambition seems to have no limit. He has a few intelligent henchmen to support his campaign, as opposed to the solitary nature of King’s Barlow, who, aside from his human assistant, commands a horde of nearly mindless spawn.
One big difference between the two novels is that we learn much more about Vulkan’s background than King reveals about his vampire, and McCammon gives us numerous scenes from the viewpoint of Vulkan and some of the other undead. Between this expansion of viewpoints and the sprawling Los Angeles setting, McCammon’s novel does have an epic feel in contrast to King’s intimate, almost claustrophobic story, even though the two books are of similar length (McCammon’s over 500 pages in the paperback original). If you want to read an old-fashioned vampire story of good versus evil in a contemporary milieu on a large scale, THEY THIRST is the book for you.
Margaret L. Carter