Thursday, September 10, 2009

a review of "The Strain"

The Strain by Guillermo Del Torro and Chuck Hogan
(William Morrow, ISBN 978-0061558238)
They have always been here. Vampires. In secret and in darkness. Waiting. Now their time has come.

In one week, Manhattan will be gone. In one month, the country.

In two months--the world.

It begins in an ordinary enough fashion. Flight 753, from Berlin, lands at New York's JFK airport, just like hundreds of every planes that day. They land, taxi down the runway and are given their gate assignment. They pull off toward the gate and then just stop. The plane is just sitting there, totally dark, not a light inside or outside the plane. The tower calls on the radio to them, asking what the problem is, but not a word in answer. The airport sends someone out to the plane and she knows something is terribly wrong. Not a sound in the plane, every shade on every window drawn shut. As she starts to check things out, she sees that one shade is now up, a shade she was sure was down a minute ago.
"Inside the plane, the darkness stirred. And Lo felt as if something were observing her from within it.
Lo whimpered, just like a child, but couldn't help it. She was paralyzed. A throbbing rush of blood, rising as though commanded, tightened her throat...
And she understood it then, unequivocally: something in there was going to eat her."

As police and fire and TSA, NTSB and Homeland Security surround the plane and stand by, the CDC calls in the people that are charged with being the first strike force for possible disease situations, walking into what might be a contagious site. The Canary program's Doctor Ephraim Goodweather and biochemist Nora Martinez suit up in state of the art hazmat gear, force open the plane door...and walk into something beyond their understanding, something that will change the world.

As the situation at JFK is being played out on the TV screens across the city, one old man, Abraham Setrakian, a pawnbroker in Spanish Harlem, is not surprised. He has know for decades that this day would come and he has been preparing for it. As a boy in the Treblinka death camp during the Holocaust, he though that he had seen the very worst that could happen to a human being. Starved, the ones too weak or sick to work, thrown into a pit and killed. But then something happen that made him realize that he was wrong, that even in the camps, something worse could happen.
And now It is back.

I am now a big horror fan. While I love the stories of Dean Knootz, whose books I consider more paranormal thrillers than horror, I have never read a book by Steven King. I do not see horror movies, not since an unfortunate incident when a wee caite, required by her mother to accompany her Big Brother and his cohorts to a viewing of the movie Thirteen Ghosts, screamed so loud at the sight of blood pouring down the screen in the opening credits that her very unhappy brother was forced to remove her from the theater. A fact he still delights in reminding her of. By the way, it was years later that I realized those credits were in black and white, not my remembered blood red. What can I say, I am a wimp.

That being said, I loved this book! Not a book I would recommend reading very late at night, alone in the house, as I first did. Bad idea.
It seems that Mr. Del Toro first came up with the idea for this book, which is the first part of a trilogy, as a TV series and then a movie, neither of which panned out. But I was happy, because in those format, most likely I would never have been exposed to it. Thirteen Ghosts incident and all. I don't want to give too much of the story away, but yes, there are vampires. Not your typical movie, Bella Lugosi vampires. Certainly not your Twilight, romantic vampires. No, very scary, very creepy vampires...and other scary things. Did you just hear a noise??

My issues with horror aside, it is a great book, with strong compelling characters, a very well written thriller that is very hard to put down once you start. Except maybe just to calm down a bit, to let the sense of creepiness dissipate a tad and to wonder if it is possible to buy silver bullets for a .38 revolver.

Just in case....
..and then there are the rats...

thanks to William Morrow for an Advanced Reader's edition of this book


  1. OK William Morrow, please send me one too! I am a student of King's. I've read everything he has done up to The Cell (he lost me there), and have seen more horror movies than the average bear. I happen to love the author, with his work with the Hellboy movies and Pan's Labrynth (which I would consider a true work of art, horrifying as it is). There is no reason on this earth I should not have this book now!

  2. Hmm, I'm not a horror fan either. I'm on the fence on this one, though.

  3. Sandy, sometimes wishes come true!

    Kathy, one reason I will read scary things but not see the movies is that with a book, I can control it. when it gets too creepy, time to make a cup of tea! ;-)

  4. I'll take just the cup of tea, thanks! Great comprehensive review but I have enough nightmares as it is.

  5. I understand Kaye, but you are missing a good one.

  6. I'm not usually much of a horror fan, but you're definitely tempting me.

  7. I recently finished this book and really enjoyed it. There were a few bits which confused me (how did the people on the plane all die peacefully?) but overall I was very impressed.

    I look forward to reading the rest in the trilogy, but wonder what is going to happen and can it possibly be better?

  8. You have a point. But I think if I go so far as to accept the basic premises that there are vampires, I am willing to leave some things unexplained.

    And too, it is just the first book of the trilogy...who knows what the next two will explain!

  9.'re giving me goosebumps .. and I like it. I do like to be scared by books (I find it amazing that you can read words and become frightened) but I can't read them at night or I have bad dreams. And I'm not good with horror movies either. And I'm a sucker for a good "a plane lands and something is wrong" set-up. That was the beginning of "The Lion's Game" by Nelson DeMille and it gave me shivers -- though that one was quite different in what happened.

    Great review ... as usual.

  10. I loved The Strain, too! I read it while on vacation in Nova Scotia, on a foggy night with the ocean right outside my door. So spooky!

  11. Jenners, goosebumps! excellent!

    Belle, vacation in NS is very lovely (and I have been lucky enough to do it a few times)...but while reading a creepy book on a creepy night...Priceless!


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