THE STRAIN Review

Do you want to have some fun?

Well, if you’re idea of fun includes vampires, biological horror, scary folk tales, and the undead walking the earth, then I have a recommendation for you:

THE STRAIN – book one of the trilogy of novels from Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.

If you’re a big GDT fan (and I assume you are because you’re reading this blog), then you are getting some classic, old school Guillermo here. This is his triumphant return to horror in a whole new medium.

The end result?

BLADE 2 meets CSI.

THE STRAIN is not a meditation like PAN’S LABYRINTH, or a metaphorical folk tale like THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE. It is an in-your-face horror thriller that is not for the squeamish.

Here is the set up:

A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Eph Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold.

In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian knows something is happening. And he knows the time has come, that a war is brewing . . . So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city—a city that includes his wife and son—before it is too late.

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this book. It is very well written and honestly, I couldn’t put it down. For my money, nothing holds my interest like a vampire plague, and this book has some cool new twists to the vampire mythology.

The premise of a vampire “infecting” its victims with a virus is not completely new: I’ve seen the idea before. What THE STRAIN does well is explore the infection of the unfortunate victim in great detail. The main character of THE STRAIN is Ephraim Goodweather, epidemiologist for the Center of Disease Control. His investigation as to the nature of this sudden and mysterious plague requires understanding the nature and effects of the virus itself.

In other words, the entire book is like playing in GDT’s sandbox of the scientifically weird and grotesque. It is a medical journal for Guillermo’s vision of the ultimate vampire.

Talk about Gross Anatomy.

But let’s not forget Mr. Hogan’s contributions. A master mystery writer (PRINCE OF THIEVES), Hogan’s sense of pacing and suspense compliments Guillermo’s sense of fantasy and horror perfectly – although from what Guillermo has said, it appears Chuck has a prolific eye for the macabre as well. He had never written a horror novel until now, but you would never know it.

In addition to Ephraim, there is a large cast of characters to this story, ranging from the heroic to the evil to the infected. Particularly ingenious is the character of Vasiliy Fet, a tough pest control expert that lends his expertise to Eph. It turns out that rats aren’t all that different from vampires – and Fet uses that to his advantage.

Another strong character is the enigmatic Abraham Setrakian. A former professor, and current pawnbroker – his ties to the vampire threat not only go back to the WWII Holocaust Death Camps, but also to his childhood. He may be the best chance mankind has of surviving – too bad he’s on heart medication.

I won’t spoil anything about the vampires for you – that’s the best part of the book – but I will say that they bare a striking similarity to the Reapers in BLADE 2. I know Guillermo said that he wasn’t able to fully realize the Reapers the way he wanted to in that film, so perhaps this is finally his perfect vision of a vampire: grotesque, horrible, thirsty and a perfect evolutionary predator.

The wonderful part about THE STRAIN is that the novel is the perfect medium for bringing GDT’s vampires to life. You understand them inside and out (literally), but also you’ll get uncomfortable access to the thoughts and fears of those who are infected…or are being infected.

And that’s stuff you’ll never get from a movie, so consider it the ultimate bonus feature.

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