Oscar-winning director of Pan’s Labrinth and the Hellboy movies, Guillermo del Toro, has entered the paranormal fiction scene alongside award-winning crime fiction writer Chuck Hogan with a captivating debut novel, The Strain. The first in a trilogy, The Strain, has readers biting nails and reluctant to put the book down straight from the first page. The book opens with a short fairy tale, the first line reading:
“Once upon a time,” said Abraham Setrakian’s grandmother, “there was a giant.”
The story then immediately proceeds to modern-day JFK airport in New York, where an airplane has landed with everyone on board dead from an unknown cause that swept swiftly through the cabin just after the plane landed, before making it to the gate.
While Center for Disease Control doctors and Homeland Security attempt to determine whether there is a viral outbreak or a national security threat, it quickly becomes evident that something even more sinister is happening. Playing off the original myths of ancient vampires in their all their gory glory, The Strain produces a vivid interpretation of the traditional horror archetype that is perhaps more threatening than the original and certainly a distinct diversion from the romanticized version of vampires that have been prominent in recent years.
The heroes include Ephraim Goodweather and Nora Martinez, who are CDC doctors tasked with solving and containing the threat, and Abraham Setrakian, who has been chasing the fabled monster since he was a young man in Eastern Europe. Eldritch Palmer is a wealthy and powerful elderly eccentric who plays a somewhat peripheral role in this first novel but still pivotal to the plot and likely to become a more central character in the two future installments of the trilogy. Others enter the scene as interesting diversions, sometimes enhancing the immediate story unfolding and sometimes serving as a potential portent of what’s to come.
The writing is fast-paced and provides good imagery and detail while not drowning the reader in unnecessary description. Though it is sometimes reminiscent of the viral-based zombie theme, every chapter drips with suspense, and thus results in 400 pages that turn easily through to the end. The book does not have a decisive wrap-up, therefore making it necessary to read the next two books in order to discover what is to come of our main characters and the rest of the human population.
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