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The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

By Tyler DFC | Books | November 5, 2009 |

By Tyler DFC | Books | November 5, 2009 |

I have the unfortunate ability to take whatever I am reading with me to dreamland. When I’m reading a horror novel my dreams tend to be … intense. The night before I finished The Strain, as the horror really escalated, I woke up convinced that there were worms in the dark dripping from the ceiling. Worms that once on me would quickly turn me into a ghoul, a vampire. This is easy to laugh about at noon in a well lit office. But in the dark of night it is another matter entirely. On the surface The Strain may strike you as hokey. But the execution is anything but and I haven’t been this scared by a novel in some time.

Vampirism as virus is not a new metaphor. But The Strain writers Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan have removed the metaphor and simply made it the plot of their terrifying opening book to a planned three-part trilogy (part two, The Fall, is due in 2010, followed by The Eternal Night in 2011).

It begins ominously when a passenger jet from Germany lands at JFK Airport in New York City. Everything seems fine at first. The plane lands without trouble and taxis to the concourse. There it shuts down and goes dormant. The tower is unable to raise the crew on the radio and when a crew goes to investigate they find all the window shades have been closed. Fearing a biological outbreak, the CDC is called in, lead by Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, and when they open the plane they find that all but four people are mysteriously dead.

Meanwhile, an old pawn shop owner named Abraham Setrakian watches the news reports of the mysterious airplane and begins to prepare for battle. Across town, multi-billionaire Eldritch Palmer is watching his mysterious plans come to fruition.

The Strain starts off ominously, but very quickly ratchets up the tension and horror. The vampires in the book - and they ARE vampires even though the book makes no reference to that word until the mid-point - are not interested in conversation. They feed via a barbed stinger that unfurls from their mouth, and then move on. Whoever they feed upon is then made vampire the following night. They spread like a virus, because they are carriers of a virus; a fast mutating pathogen that rapidly infects the host causing massive mutation to the internal organs. This aspect of the creatures makes the events of the story seem almost plausible, even mundane. And they spread very, very rapidly. The book takes place over four days and by the end of it New York is rapidly falling to chaos.

One aspect of the vampires is their need to return to their homes and families and feed on those who were closest to them. This forces showdowns of brother vs brother, wife vs husband. As the living battle the undead, tragedy ensues.

The story twists and turns but remains fresh throughout. There are several nods to Dracula and Salem’s Lot, and at the heart of the plague there is a Master vampire. He has been brought over from the old world by Eldritch Palmer to wreak havoc on ours for reasons not yet explained. The book revisits the horror of families torn apart many times, making it very much a post-millennial story of terror and loss. The World Trade Center site is a major plot point, and while there is the required descent into the darkness to battle evil, it doesn’t end quite as expected.

While reading The Strain its hard not to think that Del Toro will turn the books into movies after he finishes The Hobbit. The novel is creepy, scary, exciting, and loaded with stunning imagery that would look amazing and haunting on screen. I’m not one who immediately calls for a good book to be made into a movie, but when the co-writer is one of my favorite directors I can’t help but be excited at the possibilities.

Website for the series, with some cool footage too: The Strain Trilogy

This review is part of the Cannonball Read. For a list of the participants, check here. For more of Tylder DFC’s reviews, check his website, RUFKM.