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Guillermo Del Toro &
Published 2009 401 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
JFK International Airport, New York City: Seated corpses faced in row after row. No evident trauma. No nosebleeds. No signs of poisoning. They were seated as any normal passengers would be, chairs in full and upright position, still waiting for the fasten seatbelt sign to be turned off at the airport gate…
What took the lives of an airplane full of people?
Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, Head of the Center for Disease Control’s New York team, is racing to find out, but little does Eph know that the nightmare is only just beginning.
Abraham Setrakian is an elderly Armenian professor who understands the darkness that is descending. Many years ago, in the hellish barracks of the Treblinka extermination camp, he faced a horror more terrifying than death itself.
Before the next sundown Eph, Setrakian, and a motley collection of heroes must undertake the ultimate fight for survival. Should they fail, New York will be lost. And the rest of the world will follow…
The Strain is the first novel in a planned vampire horror trilogy written by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. Guillermo Del Toro needs little introduction. As the film director responsible for the vampire films Cronos and Blade II, not to mention the Hellboy movies and the dark fairytale Pan’s Labyrinth, Del Toro’s vampire and fantasy horror credentials are well known. Chuck Hogan is an award winning writer, whose previous mystery/thriller novels have received wide critical acclaim. Together they have combined their talents to produce the best horror thriller that I have read in sometime (and I read a lot…!)
The Strain is different in its construction to most horror or fantasy novels which usually tell their stories from the perspective of just one character. The Strain is told in third person from multiple points of view. The fast changes in perspective feel like scene changes in a movie. In fact as a reader I could just about picture the story as if it was happening in a movie, giving the book the feel of a screenplay in places, but its screenplay like construction is in no way detrimental to the story. It serves to allow the reader to know more than any one character about what is occurring within the story and acts to draw the reader in from the earliest pages of the book.
The Strain is a contemporary mixture of thriller and horror novel. The vampirism in this story is a virulent virus, one that is spread through parasitic worms and takes over its host body within mere hours. Once infected the host starts to mutate and their body is reshaped by the vampire virus into a hungry vessel with only one goal, to feed and to spread the virus. The vampirism as a plague theme plays on very real, contemporary fears of bio-terrorism and pandemic flu outbreaks. The terrorism angle is further intensified by the authors’ choice of location for vampire central – Ground Zero in New York.
As if uncontrollable viral infection isn’t frightening enough the authors heightened terror further by using aspects of the classic horror zombie movie. Once a person is infected all sense of self is soon lost but when the dead start to rise an instinct remains for them to do what would come natural to most live people. They go home–with typically horrific consequences. There are overwhelming numbers of infected spreading the plague with social disorder and breakdown not far behind. A zombie outbreak classic.
Not all of the vampire myth is lost to scientific explanation. In a nod to the classic novel, Dracula, vampires cannot cross running water without being invited across – an indicator of their supernatural origin. The Strain is a straight up horror thriller. The vampires here bear more than a passing resemblance to the mutant vampires in the Blade II movie (yes, with the jaws and sucker!) and are far removed from the romantic vampires made popular by the paranormal romance genre.
If the vampires are not like today’s typical fantasy vampire, then what about the vampire slayer? It’s fair to say that Setrakian, the elderly survivor of a WWII death camp is about as far away from the stereotypical Buffy type vampire slayer that you can get. Armed with knowledge, heart pills, a sword cane and a UV light, this old Jewish pawnbroker kills a surprising number of vampires. Fellow, yet similarly unlikely, heroes recruited to his vampire slaying task include a NY pest controller and a CDC doctor. Unlike the strong female protagonists of the urban fantasy genre, they manage to kill some vampires without resorting to leather pants, dangerous magic or vampire marks!
A well-balanced mixture of terrifying horror and conspiracy thriller, The Strain should have a wide cross-over appeal for readers beyond just vampire fans. This book gets this trilogy off to a cracking start and an exciting cliff-hanger ending guarantees that readers will be eagerly anticipating the The Fall, the second book in the trilogy, due out summer 2010.
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