The Strain (Book 1) – by Guillermo del Toro, Chuck Hogan

These days it seems that if you want to make a quick buck, you write a vampire story. I’ve seen the TV show “The Strain” and I found it compelling for the first few episode due to the very specific Romanian-based vampires they used.

“What you fought was a dead man, possessed by a disease.’ – Setrakian
‘What–like a pinche zombie?’ – Gus
‘Think more along the lines of a man with a black cape. Fangs. Funny accent. Now take away the cape and fangs. The funny accent. Take away anything funny about it.’ – Setrakian”


The Story

The book itself wasn’t bad. It wasn’t good either… While it was said it will redefine the vampire genre, it was merely a paint by the numbers job. The story starts off well – after a triple 7 jumbo jet taxis onto a JFK runway it goes mysteriously and completely belly up. All shades are inexplicably drawn and no one is able to communicate with the pilots or gain entrance to the plane.

“Innumerable stains splashed wildly against the floor, the walls, the iron stanchions … everywhere. Fet recoiled in disgust. “This is all …?” “It is excrement,” said Setrakian. “The creatures will shit while they eat.” Fet looked around in amazement.”

Once it’s pried open like a tin of sardines (and the door mysteriously opens) they find a whole lot of people restfully peacefully in their seats, all dead. Oh, and a coffin filled with some very nice compost. Thankfully, a small cast of stereotypes is perceived to still be alive (the pilot, the rock star, the vicious lawyer bitch, the cute kid) and serve as some of the agents of the book’s slow plot progression.

Enter our good guy, a free-thinking doctor from the CDC with marriage problems.

“Science has made many advances in my lifetime, but the instrument has yet to be invented that can see clearly into the marriage of a man and a woman.”

He’s not a bad fellow you see, he just works so hard at his job but BOY does he love his son! He could have completed the cliche by being named Jack but instead goes by…Eph.

Expanding on our list of characters, we have a burly exterminator — no, really, we do — and a Holocaust survivor turned avenging vampire slayer, Abraham “Rambo” Setrakian. Abe, though pushing 80-something, according to my calculations, is an absolute death-dealing merchant in the presence of those pesky vampires. His walking stick predictably conceals a silver Ginsu sword which he swings about like Errol freakin’ Flynn and yells “My sword sings silver” or something equally silly as he lops heads, arms, and other vampire appendages free in a furious rage. Abe hints at the end of the book that there’s a lot about the vampires that the authors have been keeping him from saying.

You simplify because you cannot believe. You reduce; you diminish. Because you were raised to doubt and debunk. To reduce to a small set of knowns for easy digestion. Because you are a doctor, a man of science, and because this is America—where everything is known and understood, and God is a benevolent dictator, and the future must always be bright.”

The Conclusion

While that may sound contradictory, trust me, that’s the way it read. Guillermo del Toro is used to making movies and you can feel the sense of ‘scene changes’ in the book. You can tell it’s for the sake of reading the story and plot rather than reading through character’s experiencing story and plot. Lots of tell, little show, there is no sense of care or realism with the paper people.
For the TV media it was new and inventive. In book form it is dull and so overdone that I couldn’t bring myself to care. There were no surprise twists, I didn’t care about the victims, the story was stale. I could predict most of the events that took place as they came around. To stay fresh and intriguing, this book at least needed fleshed-out characters I cared about. Instead we get semi-dry people who blended together after a while. Having a custody battle thrown in wasn’t fun either.

After a promising and creepy opening, it devolves into repetitive ridiculousness. The writing is also just not good and sometimes laughable, providing such gems as this:

“Eph too had been turned. Not from human to vampire, but from healer to slayer.”

All in all, a solid 2/5

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