Reviewed by Elaine Lamkin
Written by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Published by HarperCollins
First, I want to go on record as saying that I grew up on vampire novels: Dracula at the WAAAY too young age of 8 (what were my parents thinking?), Salem’s Lot, Interview with the Vampire, Robert McCammon’s They Thirst, and many more titles I am forgetting. But the past few years have seen a weird shift in vampire tales. Now they all seem to be marketed to, as well as written by, lonely housewives looking for the ultimate tall, dark, and deadly hero to take them away. I do not include the Sookie Stackhouse books by Charlaine Harris as they seem a few notches above the drivel I see in bookstores, plus “True Blood” ROCKS!! So, when I heard about the collaboration between the great Guillermo de Toro and thriller/police procedural author Chuck Hogan, my faith was on its way to being restored.
The Strain, the first in a trilogy that will include The Fall in 2010 and The Night Eternal in 2011, opens with a flashback to the 1920’s and Eastern Europe where a young Jewish boy, Abraham Setrakian, is being told a fairy tale by his grandmother. The legend of Jusef Sardu, the giant, his walking stick (pick-pick-pick), and his haunted castle. Creeeepy.
Flash forward to present day and the mystery of Flight 753 from Berlin to JFK. An uneventful flight, as far as the air traffic controllers are concerned, until the plane lands, begins to taxi, and then … dies. No lights, no engines, no communication between the cockpit and the tower. And all of the windows have their shades down. Reminding me of the ghost ship Demeter from Stoker’s book, no one on the ground knows what to do so all reinforcements are called in. Among them is CDC epidemiologist Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather, who heads up the Canary Project – a rapid response team trained to deal with possible biologic threats.
Across the city, in Spanish Harlem, an elderly Jewish pawnshop owner is also aware that something is happening. Something he has been waiting for since he was a young boy, being told the legend of Jusef Sardu…
Ascertaining that everyone aboard the plane has died mysteriously, except for four survivors, things just get weirder and weirder as information about the deceased, as well as a mysterious object in the cargo hold, begins emerging. And as autopsies begin, well, let’s just say things don’t go well from there on.
Del Toro and Hogan have crafted a smart, fast-paced, and creepy book which, in these days of swine flu, Ebola, and other nasty things that can be transported so easily on a passenger flight, really resonates. And as the infection spreads throughout New York City, it falls to Eph, Abraham Setrakian, and a few others to try and stop something which is seemingly unstoppable.
Combining the horror of which del Toro is a master along with the mystery/techno-thrillers that won Hogan the Hammett Award, The Strain will keep you up at night, wanting to know WHAT could possibly happen next? And when you’ve finished the book, the knowledge that you have to wait until next year to continue the journey may very well have you pulling out your hair.
Think of The Strain as Bram Stoker by way of Stephen King’s The Stand with a dash of Robert McCammon’s They Thirst, and mix in the very best of today’s all-too-believable medical/techno thrillers. You HAVE been warned…
And my faith has been MORE than restored.
4 1/2 out of 5
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