The Strain: del Toro builds modern mythology on top of old-school vampire horror

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The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck HoganThe Strain by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

Abraham Setrakian had witnessed and survived horrible evil when he was a young man. He’d made it out of a Nazi death camp in Poland, but the horror brought about by the Germans was not what kept the professor awake at night. It was the Stroigoi — the vampire — he’d seen feed on his camp mates. It was this that haunted Setrakian. And now it was time for revenge.

What he saw before him was not an omen — it was an incursion. It was the act itself. The thing he had been waiting for. That he had been preparing for. All his life until now.

The Strain, the first book in THE STRAIN trilogy, is a very good modern vampire horror story. There are no moody teenagers battling hormones and vampire/werewolf love triangles. Renowned movie icon Guillermo del Toro and author Chuck Hogan have built just good old-school hardcore monster horror. The writing is crisp, the plot moves along quickly, and there’s enough creepiness to doubt those house-settling sounds you hear late at night. del Toro has also converted this trilogy into a successful cable television series.

A dark presence arrives in the New World on a flight from Germany. On the plane, all but four people are dead. Receiving help from a human with a dark purpose, a vampire has arrived and feeds and infects the population of New York City. It takes only days before the entire city is drawn into chaos. Two CDC specialists, a NYC rat exterminator, and Professor Setrakian are at the forefront of the human attempt to stop the spread.

The back-story of the vampires is well developed and the mythology that surrounds the story is solid and downright creepy. The authors create a new mythology that’s not completely unique, but it’s dark, serious, at times melodramatic, and very good. It’s hard to write too much around the plot without giving away the suspense, but to get a sense, I pulled this quote from Setrakian:

They have always been here. Nesting, feeding. In secret and in darkness, because that is their nature.

I love the seriousness and dark mood set throughout The Strain. It takes a while for the characters to pick up on some of the more obvious signs that a vampire may be on the loose, but when they do, Setrakian focuses the small group on the battles ahead, reminding them that they are not fighting a movie monster:

You are thinking of a moody overactor in a black satin cape. Or else a dashing figure of power, with hidden fangs. Or some existential soul burdened with the curse of eternal life. Or — Bela Lugosi meets Abbott and Costello.

The Strain isn’t perfect, but it’s fun. There are times when conclusions come to the characters too easily, and plot connections are made too spuriously. But there’s a sense of something very big developing with the story. And I just really liked it.

Sequels:

Published in 2009. At New York’s JFK Airport, an arriving Boeing 777 taxiing along a runway suddenly stops dead. All the shades have been drawn, all communication channels have mysteriously gone quiet. Dr. Eph Goodweather, head of a CDC rapid-response team investigating biological threats, boards the darkened plane — and what he finds makes his blood run cold. A terrifying contagion has come to the unsuspecting city, an unstoppable plague that will spread like all-consuming wildfire — lethal, merciless, hungry… vampiric. And in a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, an aged Holocaust survivor knows that the war he has been dreading his entire life is finally here. In one week, Manhattan will be gone. In one month, the country. In two months… the world.

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JASON GOLOMB, who joined us in September 2015, graduated with a degree in Communications from Boston University in 1992, and an M.B.A. from Marymount University in 2005. His passion for ice hockey led to jobs in minor league hockey in Baltimore and Fort Worth, before he returned to his home in the D.C. metro area where he worked for America Online. His next step was National Geographic, which led to an obsession with all things Inca, Aztec and Ancient Rome. But his first loves remain SciFi and Horror, balanced with a healthy dose of Historical Fiction.

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2 comments

  1. What an awful cover.

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