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Almost believable vampire thriller
The Strain - Guillermo del Toro
Member Name: chezza99
The Strain - Guillermo del Toro
Date: 29/04/09, updated on 30/04/09 (139 review reads)
Advantages: Gripping: I couldn't put it down!
Disadvantages: Revolting: I couldn't eat!
This sci-fi thriller is the first of a planned trilogy by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. I read it straight through and don't want to wait a whole year for the sequel!
Set firmly in the present day, the book races through an imaginative 400-page scenario in which a secret strain of blood-sucking creatures makes itself suddenly, and dramatically, known. Although the creatures have been around for centuries, they now threaten the human race with extinction. The residents of New York City are turning into voracious zombies, each spreading the 'strain' as they drain the blood from their family and friends. Can it be stopped in time?
The novel introduces misunderstood medical genius, Ephraim Goodweather, spearheading a small team against the vampires. He is in the middle of a custody battle over his eleven-year-old son Zack, and has had a small fling with his professional partner Nora. The similarities with Jack Bauer of "24" are hard to miss. Like Bauer, he's appointed to take care of the problem but finds himself unsupported by the authorities.
The two main characters helping Ephraim Goodweather in his lonely battle are Nora Martinez, a biochemist, and an elderly Armenian professor called Abraham Setrakian.
We also meet his other colleagues, his wife and son, and a dozen additional characters I can't tell you about without spoiling the plot. They are well-drawn and varied. I found all of the people (and the vampires) completely believable and felt very involved in what happened to them.
* Plot outline
In the short prelude, we meet Abraham Setrakian as a young boy in Armenia. His grandmother tells him the legend of Sardu: a giant who eats children.
A 777 airliner lands safely at JFK international airport, New York, but its systems are off. The passengers and crew are all dead. Ephraim and Nora are tasked with identifying the cause of this tragedy, in order to contain any further outbreaks.
Autopsies on corpses from the airliner reveal some puzzling characteristics. Four of the victims make an astonishing recovery. The strain begins to spread.
After meeting Professor Setrakian, Ephraim and Nora realise what they are up against: unsurprisingly, nobody believes them until it's too late. Over the course of a week, New York gradually breaks down. It becomes apparent the vampires have friends in high places - their plague looks set to extend worldwide.
* Vampires & Zombies
These vampires do not fly; they're uninterested in young virgins and unaffected by garlic. They could be described as a kind of humanoid louse - you'll have to read the book to find out just how repulsive that is!
The authors have re-interpreted the vampire myth as a highly evolved virus, transmitted by parasites. They have clearly researched into parasite and vermin behaviour, which informs the plot development as well as their descriptions.
* Thrill & Scare factor
I wouldn't call "The Strain" a horror story. It's a thriller. The tale moves at a cracking pace, is very effectively woven together, and makes the threat of a vampire epidemic seem realistic.
It's not scary in the usual sense - I'm not sleeping with the light on! It spooked me a different way: I couldn't eat while reading it. I still feel extra nervous about keeping wounds clean ...
"The Strain" is a well-written, involved thriller with plenty of intrigue. It has a mild supernatural slant, so those who cannot suspend their disbelief would probably dislike it.
This novel should appeal to fans of "24" and "Lost", as well as readers of science fiction adventures. Good for mid-teens upwards.
* Product information
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price: £8.99 at Amazon (hardback)
I had a paperback preview copy. The cover is as illustrated here, but with yellow text instead of red.
Summary: Well-written, involved thriller with a supernatural slant.