Sunday 4 July 2010

The Strain by Guillermo del Toro & Chuck Hogan

Strain I was first introduced to Guillermo del Toro through the medium of film – namely the amazing movie ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’, which he wrote and directed.  I had no idea he also wrote novels until, after reviewing Pan’s Labyrinth, I was recommended this novel by Taliesin meets the vampires.

A plane touches down on JFK runway, and within moments it goes dead; all of the lights go out and the engines stop running.  The blinds have all been pulled down and no one comes out.

Dr Ephraim Goodweather from the Centre for Disease Control is called to the scene.  Separated from his wife, he has a son he rarely gets to see.  He is also a recovering alcoholic and works too much.

Almost everyone on board is dead.  The few survivors are close to death, but then they seem to miraculously recover. They remember nothing about what happened.  The hundreds of body’s that are recovered from the plane do not decompose, and an autopsy reveals extraordinary changes to their insides.  On the plane a huge box is found filled with dirt, but it quickly disappears.

Across town an old man, Abraham Setrakian, a Jew who survived the concentration camps has discovered that an old foe is back.

Ephraim and Abraham find it falls upon them to try to save the world from this ‘disease’ and find the vampire at the heart of it all – the Master.

This was a refreshing read from all of the nice, educated vampires that are around lately.  In The Strain the vampires are created by a type of ‘blood-worm’, and it is essentially a disease.  Once they have turned the vampires have almost no real thought themselves, except to return home and turn those they loved.  They are pretty scary, but do resemble zombies that drink blood, more than real vampires (though sunlight will kill them, as does silver).  I really enjoyed the parts of the book where they followed the survivors of the plane and their transformations – this was probably the best part of the novel.  I also enjoyed the start of the book after the plane had landed, before anyone had boarded it to find out what happened.  It was really creepy and just the smallest things that were happening around the aircraft led to the tension – a blind opening, a door standing ajar.

My only negatives would be that I felt the female characters were all very weak.  The men all had unusual names, the women very ordinary names.  I don’t know if this was a subconscious thing, but all the men were fairly extraordinary (even the local rat killer) and the women basically just had to look after the kids (even the one who is a world class epidemiologist ends up babysitting!).  I thought this was a shame.  It was as though the writers couldn’t be bothered developing any interesting female characters – too much testosterone involved I think!  There was also a bit of a side-line story about a very rich man getting eternal life from the vampire Master, but I didn’t really get this bit and thought it unnecessary.

Overall this is one of the best horror novels I have read for a long time.  It was fast-paced and sometimes shocking, and the few negatives I had to say about it were only minor.  It is the first of a trilogy so I will definitely be getting the next two.  If you are a vampire fan it is a must-read.

This review is part of the frightening fiction review blog hop!



  1. Great review I've never read any of his books, but am tempted now. I am interested in different vectors and methodologies of infection in vampire fiction and finding new ones is not always easy thank you Marissa.

  2. Thanks Gaynor! I think you would love it. I'd say put it on you 'to-be-read' pile, but it sounds like you are swamped already!

  3. I enjoyed the book (but listen, they totally stole the whole WWII from my book ;-) and am anxious to see where the series goes, but it's not the kind of vampires I like -- I'm more into the Anne Rice-y kind, not the Salem's Lot variety. Thanks for the review, Marissa! And I love your new pic!