September 12, 2009
Rabid Reads "The Strain" by Chuck Hogan * Guillermo Del Toro
Title: The Strain (Book One of the Strain Trilogy)
Author: Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Publisher: William Morrow; Harper Collins imprint (2009)
After reading about vampires of varying sizes, shapes, and sparkliness this summer, I was getting a little vamped out. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight, Lili St. Crow's Strange Angels, Heather Brewer's Vladimir Todd, and Bram Stoker's Dracula provided me with more than enough bloodsucking for anyone with a fang fetish. But, I've had The Strain on my waiting list at the library since it hit shelves. I figured I could deal with one more vampiric romp.
Well, let me first say that this book definitely got the Twilight taste out of my mouth. Hell, Stoker's iconic classic even got shoved to the wayside while I was reading this. I'm not a devotee to bloodsuckery, but I will say the vampires in Del Toro's and Hogan's story are unlike anything I have seen from previous novels. They were vicious, relentless, grotesque, and frankly more akin to a 28 Days Later kind of zombie than any vampire I ever heard of before.
The [expletive deleted] hit the fan early, as the story starts with a 777 passenger jet landing at JFK airport in New York City and going dark--all lights and electrical signals cease simultaneously--within minutes of landing. Everyone equipped to respond gets the willies and eventually discover everyone onboard is dead for unknown reasons. It isn't until they ship all of the bodies to various morgues in the city that things go from odd to downright H.F.S. status--Holy F'ing you know the rest.
There are four survivors, and they're the ones that put the good guys on edge when they start undergoing disturbing changes. The survivors aren't the only ones turning heads, though. Nope, the dead are doing a good job of that too, as they all disappear from their respective morgues and literally take Manhatten.
While the novel starts off all over the map, following several characters at once, but the story and pace streamline until all points converge on a taut and suspenseful climax. I guess that's where some of the comparisons to Stephen King's The Stand are warranted, but this ain't your daddy's end-of-the-world-athon. Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan plant their vampire myth smack dab in the middle of the real world and make it tick.
I can't help but think, as I read this book, that Del Toro was the visionary of the monsters and the macabre, while Hogan was the guy giving the story a heartbeat and throwing in all of the technical details--a lot of technical details. The verisimilitude of the tale comes from not just the backstory of the vampire myth, but the procedural aspects of the CDC's, and other agencies, response to this crisis. If I'm right about this collaboration of these two storytellers, they've proven to be indispensible to each other for the sake of this story and the impending trilogy.
Before reading the book, I wasn't really paying attention to the fact that this was the first of three books. So, when I clued in to that, I got a little edgy about how this book would end. There is a bit of a cliffhanger concerning the source of the vampire outbreak, but The Strain stands on its own merits. As the tension really ratcheted up towards the last fifty pages or so, I got nervous that they would cut it off like a bad sitcom and say, See you next season. There was none of that and all of the proverbial guns from the first act are fired in the third.
This isn't my favorite vampire novel, or even among my favorite horror novels, but there is a good yarn here. And, they've left enough meat on the bone to make me want to read the second book in the trilogy.
You can read other bloggers' reviews at: Bookgasm; Fantasy Book Critic; Horror Scope; My Favorite Books; The Novel Bookworm; Shroud Magazine Book Reviews; and most recently Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews