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The Strain by Guillermo del Toro
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Harper Paperback  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780007311293
Date: 01 April 2010 List Price 6.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK /

The UK mass market paperback release of The Strain, a collaboration between Hollywood's flavour-of-the-month director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) and author Chuck Hogan. We're re-running Joseph B. Hoyos's review of the US edition, which appeared in our June 2009 issue.

"High-concept thriller with a supernatural edge from world-famous director, whose films include Pan's Labyrinth and Hellboy. A plane lands at JFK and mysteriously 'goes dark', stopping in the middle of the runway for no apparent reason, all lights off, all doors sealed. The pilots cannot be raised. When the hatch above the wing finally clicks open, it soon becomes clear that everyone on board is dead -- although there is no sign of any trauma or struggle. Ephraim Goodweather and his team from the Center for Disease Control must work quickly to establish the cause of this strange occurrence before panic spreads. The first thing they discover is that four of the victims are actually still alive. But that's the only good news. And when all two hundred corpses disappear from various morgues around the city on the same night, things very rapidly get worse. Soon Eph and a small band of helpers will find themselves battling to protect not only their own loved ones, but the whole city, against an ancient threat to humanity. "

Countdown has begun for the end of the human race. With the aid of a vindictive human, Eldritch Palmer, the world's most powerful, most evil vampire, Master Sardu, has arrived in New York. He was stowed aboard a jumbo jet that landed at JFK Airport. All but four passengers were found dead, their throats slashed and their blood drained. The survivors begin to mutate, serving as a distraction while the corpses were transported to various morgues throughout the five boroughs.

On the second night after the jet's landing, the corpses arise, breaking out of their freezers, and walk home where they feed on relatives, neighbors, and friends, turning them into vampires. In The Strain, vampirism is a virus incarnate, a deadly new strain that rages through Manhattan, threatening to destroy New York and the world beyond. Mankind's only hope consists of two CDC epidemiologists, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, a rat exterminator, and an eleven-year-old boy.

Two creative geniuses, Guillermo Del Toro (director of Hell Boy and Blade II) and Chuck Hogan (author of The Blood Artists and The Killing Moon), have united to create The Strain - an apocalyptic vision of modern horror. If Del Toro's name is associated with a project, you know it must be a bizarre, mythical, and creepy concoction of supernatural terror. The reader is immediately yanked into the novel's fast-moving plot by the mysterious landing of the plane containing so many dead passengers. Gruesome murders and supernatural events occur in rapid-fire succession.

Del Toro has created unique vampires that are of a different breed than the stereotypical vampire. Though they are not harmed by crucifixes and holy water, they can be destroyed by sunlight and decapitation. Also, these vampires are grimy, filthy, stinking beasts that are highly mutative. Chuck Hogan has lent his knowledge of medicine and police procedures to give The Strain a sense of plausibility. The reader is provided a realistic explanation for how vampirism is spread.

The main character is charming, attractive Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, a CDC epidemiologist; he is having a romantic relationship with his coworker, Nora Martinez, while still carrying a torch for his ex-wife, Kelly. He is determined to be a good father to his highly intelligent son, Zack. He is approached by Abraham Setrakian, an elderly Holocaust survivor who has studied vampires and amassed a secret armory of weapons specifically designed to destroy them. His main goal is to locate and eliminate the diabolical Sardu. The Strain is the classic tale of good versus evil. You will cheer for Dr. Goodweather and his companions and you will detest, despise and fear the cruel Sardu.

The Strain is extremely eerie and one of the few novels I've read that actually frightened me. There are many tense scenes of graphic violence. Difficult to lay aside, this novel is a highly imaginative, fast-paced car ride through a haunted fun house. The first in a trilogy, The Strain sets the stage for the nightmarish horror that will soon engulf our country and the rest of the world. It reminded me of Stephen King's novels Salem's Lot and The Stand because the world is coming to an end, not by war or natural calamity, but by a contagion of vampirism. While reading the medical procedures in this novel, I kept thinking: "If Robin Cook had been hired to novelize a plague of vampires ravaging our country, The Strain would be it."

Thanks to the release of the blockbuster film Twilight and the publication of Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire series, vampires are extremely popular this Summer. Horror fans, especially those of the vampire subgenre, will want to read The Strain. If the sequels, The Fall and The Night Eternal (due to be published in 2010 and 2011, respectively), are half as good as the first one, then I can't wait to sink my fangs into them.

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