Friday, March 8, 2013

My review of THE STRAIN: BOOK ONE OF THE STRAIN TRILOGY by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan.

(Originally published at

Guillermo Del Toro (yes, that Guillermo Del Toro) and author Chuck Hogan (Prince of Thieves, Standoff, The Killing Moon) have come together to create The Strain: Book One of the Strain Trilogy. Beforehand, one might think that the book would resonate with otherworldly, fantastic themes as one of its co-authors is the director of such films as Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth, not to mention the upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit. There are no elves here, though, no magical spells or friendly demons. What we have here is—wait for it—


It seems that with his literary debut, Del Toro is more comfortable channeling his Blade 2 side than with creating some dark yet whimsical fairy tale. And with vampires being all the rage these days, it is undoubtedly a sound decision from the standpoint of actually selling books. The question is, with all of the recent undead material out there—TwilightTrue BloodLet the Right One In, etc.—were co-authors Del Toro and Hogan able to come up with something captivating and at least a little bit original? As your trusted reviewer, I have to say that I went into this book with at least a little bit of trepidation, but was happy to discover that I was hooked early and found myself more than adequately entertained throughout the novel’s four hundred pages.

After a brief prologue, The Strain opens with a jetliner coming in for a landing at JFK International Airport in New York City which then goes completely dead on the runway. There are no lights working inside or outside the aircraft and no response from the cockpit. Tension builds as time passes and it is feared that all of the passengers and crew inside the plane may be dead. Enter Ephraim Goodweather, head of a local “Canary team” for the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a “rapid-response team of field epidemiologists organized to detect and identify incipient biological threats.” Fearing some sort of pathogen may be responsible for what is occurring within the quiet Boeing 777, Eph’s weekend with his son—who spends most of his time with Eph’s ex-wife—is brought to an abrupt end as he is called in to assess the situation at the airport. And that’s when things start to get weird. Only four comatose survivors are found among the hundreds of dead people onboard the plane. And when they are eventually revived, these survivors have no recollection of what was done to them and their fellow passengers. Oh, and there’s the large wooden box in the cargo hold that resembles some sort of coffin, filled with dirt, which suddenly and quite inexplicably goes missing.

It’s all downhill from there.

At its heart—no pun intended—The Strain is an undead-creature-as-carrier-for-an-infectious-and-transformative-disease story. Certainly, not the most original of concepts but one that is pulled off quite effectively. There is no shortage of action here and plenty of creepy little moments usually involving people faced with infected family members who have come home, guided there by some mindless need for sanctuary. Eph finds that he must undergo his own transformation from doctor-as-healer to a man who must destroy. For, you see, the only known way to treat the unfortunately infected individuals is through decapitation, a reality that Eph finds, quite understandably, more than a bit difficult to face. He is not alone, however, in his fight against the threat facing the city and possibly all of humankind. Aiding him is Nora Martinez, a co-worker and a woman with whom Eph has had an occasional fling. There is also Vasiliy Fet, a New York City exterminator who first realizes that something strange is going on when all of the rats seem to be fleeing their homes beneath the city streets. And there is also an old man named Setrakian who has encountered this sort of outbreak before and has been dreading the time when a similar situation would inevitably occur again. As the powers that be use the media to downplay the severity of the situation, these four people are the only ones aware of the true threat only just beginning to mount against the city. Except for a handful of powerful, ancient, supernatural entities, that is, and an unimaginably wealthy and physically debilitated man who plays a key role in the spreading of the infection for his own secretive and selfish purposes.

The Strain, for the most part, is a lot of fun. Horror fans, by and large, should find themselves suitably entertained by its creepier moments not to mention its suitably gruesome action sequences. Even those who may be, quite understandably, sick to death of the recent onslaught of vampire books, TV shows, and movies. I, for one, however, have no trouble admitting that I am looking forward to the next installment of Del Toro and Hogan’s “Strain trilogy.” I guess I just have a soft spot for tales involving the threat of humanity’s demise. Go figure.


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