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Review: The Strain, Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

On September 24, 2010, a plane lands at JFK airport in New York City.  Immediately on landing, the plane goes dark, all of the window blinds pulled down, and the doors completely locked.  Ephraim Goodweather has been spending time with his son, Zack, in the lead-up to a custody battle, but he is called away from his weekend off work to investigate the plane.  On arrival, he and his partner Nora realize that it is full of dead people, bar four very ill exceptions.  The dead people are unusual, though, in that they appear to be full of a strange white liquid, not blood, and their bodies haven’t deteriorated at all.  Eph is mystified until an old man, Abraham Setrakian, approaches him with an extraordinary tale and an urgent mission.

At times, The Strain reads like a movie on paper.  Everything is very visual, from the descriptions of the scenes to the alteration between chapters to the way it cuts across the perspectives of the characters.  It’s easy to imagine this on a big screen, a difficult feat for someone like me.  I rarely envision what I’m reading as I go along, but I couldn’t avoid imagine these pictures.  While that’s not necessarily a fault, the book had a startling amount of gory descriptions and action scenes, so I don’t think this book is for the squeamish.  It had my stomach rolling at times because I could for once picture all the nastiness associated with the vampires.

What does work without a doubt is the intense, ceaseless suspense and quick pace of the novel.  It only takes place over a few days, but so much happens in those days as the mystery is established, solved, and the characters set out to save the world.  The timescale never feels unrealistic, especially because we don’t stay with the few main characters all the time.  We’re also given viewpoint perspective for a few of the victims and their families, which really drives the emotional impact of the entire situation.  The authors are very good at establishing sympathetic characters in a very small number of words, which definitely impressed me.  Of course, the main characters, especially Eph, are easy to care about as well.  Eph in particular virtually lives for his son, but his chances of winning custody are slimmed even further when he has to save the human race.  His priorities break his heart, and they break ours too.

While The Strain is not for the faint hearted, it is certainly an exciting ride, and is meant to be the first in the trilogy.  I know I will be looking forward to seeing what happens next!

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