Book Review: The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro

Last year I acknowledged that I needed to read more horror. Joining Read It, Swap It allowed me to do that and to break away from the Herbert and King work that had become the core of my genre reading. One of the works that pricked my ears up was this interesting nugget co-written by one of my favourite film directors.

JFK International Airport. A Jumbo Jet lands and immediately all of the electrical systems and engines shut down. It does not as instructed taxi to its allocated gate. What’s more, all of the shutters are drawn and all attention of airport staff is focused on this bizarre aircraft as it sits there, on the tarmac, doing nothing. After all attempts to contact any crew or passengers fail, security services decide to break in.

When they eventually get the crate open, they discover that the entire crew and passenger list is dead of a mysterious and inexplicable illness. Over the following hours, a solar eclipse passes over eastern North America allowing the wheels to be set in motion for the main crux of the story – the vampire apocalypse. At the centre of this, Dr Ephraim Goodweather, head of a rapid response team investigating biological threats and Abraham Setrakian, a holocaust survivor with a chilling tale to tell. Together they must discover the menace that has infected New York City and prevent a disaster.

In the early part of the book, despite the growing tension, I don’t really get a sense of the growing unease from the various characters. We are told about it but it isn’t properly transmitted in the writing style in perhaps the way that Justin Cronin’s The Passage did so perfectly. However, vampires need to be scary again and this is achieved rather effectively, especially as the nature of the infection inches rather than charges forward. We are nearly half way through the book before we see any sign of the infection in the general population. Setrakian’s story is also incredibly illustrated as he describes a vampire eating its way through the population of a concentration camp – cautiously selecting those who are close to death. Eventually, there is a break-out at the camp and Setrakian finds the creature. This takes it from what would have been an average horror novel to a good horror novel.

It didn’t blow me away though, there was too much about it that was all done before but it does have a few interesting takes on vampire lore most notably that there have only ever been seven in the world – three in the old world and three in the new world who have a pact never to cross into each other’s territory with one renegade always threatening to declare war on the other six. They are also presented more as parasitical than they have been in the past, comparisons to leeches and fluke worms rather than bats or rats.

You should probably read it, but you will forget it soon after completion. It is part of a trilogy and the final two parts were released in 2010 and 2011 respectively. FX in the USA are currently producing a TV version (which was the original intention but Del Toro couldn’t convince anybody to make it – with the success of The Walking Dead, this has clearly changed).

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Strain by Chuck Hogan and Guillermo Del Toro

  1. tmso

    Hmm, I’ll put it on my list of books to read, but won’t hurry out to get it. I’ll save it for a rainy or sick day.

    1. Yeah… it was just middling. There was nothing to hate it for but nothing to love it for either. There was next to no tension, a handful of genuine dramatic moments and a general lack of passion in the writing style. Good, but not great.

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