Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mini book review: The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

There has been an overabundance of vampires in popular culture (books, movies, television) lately, a wealth of romantic, beautiful, never-aging, sometimes sparkling, sexy creatures of the night, pining for, sipping from and sometimes - often reluctantly - killing their swooning victims.  The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, is a vampire-horror novel that contains none of that.  No sparkling, no swooning, and no sex.  These are nasty, nasty vampires.

When an airplane from Germany lands at JFK, windowshades closed, lights out, no communications, there is cause for concern.  There is greater cause for concern when all passengers and crew - save four individuals - are dead, and a giant, dirt-filled coffin disappears from the cargo bay.  The four survivors soon begin exhibiting strange changes to their physionomy, but even stranger is that all the bodies of the dead passengers vanish from the morgues of NYC.  The CDC is befuddled and way out of their league.  It takes a Holocaust survivor and vampire hunter, Abraham Setrakian, to show them what they're really dealing with: a terrible, 100% contagious virus that turns regular humans into vampires.  Within days, NYC is all but lost - the concern is that the contagion be confined to the city and not allowed to spread where it could take over the world.

When I learned that del Toro had [co-]written a horror novel, I couldn't wait to pick it up - he's been responsible for some movies I adore (Pan's Labyrinth, the Hellboys) and I was interested to see what he could do in written format.  I'm sorry to say that the book is not quite the masterpiece his movies are.  The concept is definitely intriguing, and he's upended the traditional vampire mythology quite interestingly.  But the prose is thin somehow.  The writing is not eloquent, the characters have little depth, and there's a lot of telling rather than showing.  All the while I was reading The Strain, I could just picture the novel being used as a jumping off point for a movie - I felt as though the authors wrote just enough to sketch out a scene, figuring that the filmmakers' vision would fill in the rest.  Maybe that was the whole point and, if so, I'll probably see the movie because I like del Toro's visions.  But as far as the rest of this trilogy goes, (The Fall and The Night Eternal coming later this year), I've got other things to read.

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