PUBLISHER: Harper Collins
RELEASE DATE: 2nd June 2009
FORMAT: Paperback, 495 pages
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. Ephraim “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.(Goodreads)
What drew me to this book was the name Guillermo Del Torro. He has directed and written some of my favorite films, including Blade 2 and Mimic. So I was interested to see what this book was going to deliver. When I found out that the co-author, Chuck Hogan had written Prince of Thieves, the book on which the movie The Town is based, starring Ben Affleck and Jermey Renner, I knew that this had the potential to be an original read.
Thankfully it is a great horror book. I’m not sure how much Guillermo wrote and how much Chuck Hogan did, but it is of no consequence because this book is an example of a great modern horror story. I must admit that the book does take a little while to get going, but there is a sense of foreboding running just beneath the surface of the plot. You can feel that something terrible is coming and that it will shake the whole cast to the core.
THE STRAIN is set in New York City, after the events of 9/11. The city itself is a character in this book and both Del Torro and Hogan use it wisely. You can feel that this is a city still healing. The opening is unnerving, even though we know what is going to happen. The textbook landing of the aircraft, only for the power to cut out in the middle of the runway. The darkened aircraft is an ominous sign, all the contingency plans that have been put in place kick into gear. It is at this point we meet our hero of the series, Dr Ephraim Goodweather, a member of the Centre of Disease Control.
He is a very complex character. Ephraim, or Eph for short, is going through a messy divorce and is fighting for shared custody of his son. You could tell that he would be the reluctant hero of the piece, unknowingly releasing this ‘plague’ across the city. As the book progresses, you start to see how science and folklore begin their fight inside Eph’s head. He is used to dealing with very defined outbreaks with clear rules that each disease follows, but this plague is something completely new. Eph has to set aside his morals, in order to help contain this disease. By the end of the first book, you are able to reflect how far across the line he has crossed. It will be interesting to see how he develops in the next two books, especially as The Master, the big bad in the book knows that he is on to him.
The other main character in this book is a survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrkain. The fight had started with this man, during the war. Though time is not on his side, he has vowed to fight The Master to his last breath. Abraham takes Eph on as an apprentice of sorts. Abraham is the heart of the story, the lone crusader against the modern science. No one believes him, until the bodies of the dead go missing from the morgues. It is only then that Eph and his partner Nora investigate further.
What was really refreshing was the science behind the vampire plague. They aren’t really vampires in the traditional sense. Though the vampires do need to drink blood to survive, they are almost like zombies. Both the living and the dead can become a vampire. They cause of infection seems to be a parasitic worm that takes over the hosts body until it is adapted to their own molecular design. It is unnerving how easily that someone can be infected.
At the heart of the book, are the small stories of the passengers on the plane. Initially there are four survivors from the incident: one of the pilots, a rock star, a high flying lawyer and a businessman. Each turning is different and all are harrowing to read. Though the most difficult to witness was that of the businessman who had a family. His home life isn’t easy, with his wife suffering from a form of OCD. His turning results in a tragedy, that when you reflect on it, may have saved his wife.
As we begin to witness more and more people being turned, we see that this really is an epidemic just on the brink of exploding. Somehow, the authors manage to make each new victims infection different. I don’t think there was any repetition throughout the whole book. This in itself is impressive. At times, the book would cut to a victim having just beaten back a vampire, only to be infected through some other means rather than through the stinger that each vampire has to use to drain their prey. One infection still haunts me yet, with the woman apparantly escaping unscathed. All I will say is that it left me rather uncomfortable. If anyone picks up the book and reads it, I’d be intrested to know if they pick out that bit.
There are a few supporting characters that have slightly more backstory that the “red shirts”. (A Little Star Trek Reference there, meaning the sole purpose of a red shirt is to be cannon fodder) We have Nora, mentioned before; Gus, a petty criminal who unknowingly is the cause of this virus spreading; Fet, an exterminator who specialises in killing rats; Zack, Eph’s son and finally, Kelly, Eph’s ex wife. Some backstory is given on each of these characters and by the end of the book you begin to see that their is potential for these characters to grow. Out of them all, I am intrested in seeing the further development of Gus and Fet. These two could be destined for great things.
The structure of the book is very cinematic and you can almost imagine that this book would make an excellent film or TV series. The buildup in tension is slow at first, but as the vampires begin to multiply, you can see how it is close to tipping over to full blown catastrophe. What is really unusual is the fact that the book is split into sections, with its own little title. Each section could almost be the title of an episode in a TV Series. It gives you an idea of what each part is about, without giving too much away. It is a clever way in which to ramp up the tension in the book. I especially found the sections entitled “Awakening”, “The First Night” and “The Second Night” particularly nail-biting stuff.
The book really did unnerve me. Maybe it was due to the fact that one of the symptoms of the survivors of the plane was a very sore throat. At the time of reading this book, I was ill with a throat infection. Needless to say it really spooked me. This wasn’t the only part that spooked me. The ease of how the virus spread is so quiet. It is almost like a guerrilla takeover. When we see how high up the power tree the knowledge of this plague goes, you really do see what our hero’s are against.
The book ends on a cliffhanger and I knew that there was anther two books to read. With titles like The Fall and The Night Eternal, the events in this book are just the beginning. That’s not to say it was an unsatisfactory ending. THE STRAIN was almost like the closing of one door. There was a conclusion, but rather than a clear cut end, the book was giving you the end of the start of this war.
One thing I have forgotten to mention was this third party, that only turns up near the end of the book. They are mentioned a few times through out the story. When they do make their entrance, it is still undecided on which side they are on. Is it the humans or is it The Master? You are left questioning “Is my enemy’s enemy my friend or foe?”
A refreshing spin on the vampire novel. Del Torro and Hogan know how to construct a book that is both novel and familiar. The book keeps you on edge as you wait for the other shoe to drop. You watch helplessly as you start to see the city change, but can do nothing to warn the players in this tale.
This is a book for fans of The Walking Dead, since it comes down to the human condition and how you would navigate through this incident. If you are sick of the sparkly, soft vampires, this is the book for you.
BOOKS IN SERIES ORDER
- The Strain
- The Fall
- The Night Eternal
BUY THE BOOK