Saturday, October 23, 2010

Disease personified

The Strain: Book One of The Strain Trilogy
by Chuck Hogan

It would be a significant understatement to say that I am not a vampire fan. I haven't avoided the genre entirely (It's almost impossible to do so these days.), but even a hint of fangs is usually enough to send me running in the opposite direction.

Fortunately, there are no fangs in this first collaboration between filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro and novelist Chuck Hogan. They're not that kind of vampire. Oh, no, these vampires are far worse. These vampires are just the slightest bit... plausible. Enough so that, frankly, this book scared the hell out of me. It didn't help that I read it on a plane.

The novel opens with a 777 landing normally at JFK. Once the plane is safely down, however, all systems go dead. There is no power, no communication, no one opens a door. Nothing. Fearing they've got a hostage situation on their hands, the authorities are called in. What they find is infinitely more disturbing.

I don't want to say much more than that this is a novel about an epidemic. Two of the central characters are CDC epidemiologists who take a very scientific look at the events unfolding in New York. And that is why the book was so effective in frightening me. I don't believe in supernatural boogeymen, but the monsters in this book were presented in an all-too-believable way. Aside from that, it was just plain gross and creepy as hell.

I've read Chuck Hogan's solo work, and he's a fine prose stylist. Guillermo Del Toro, on the other hand, knows how to tell a story and has a fine visual sense. The two of them working together are a truly powerhouse combo. In addition to scaring the heck out of me, they kept me turning the pages at a lightning pace. While The Strain is clearly a horror novel, it is also very much a thriller.

Fortunately, I had the sequel, The Fall, immediately on hand for when I finished The Strain's cliffhanger ending. I dived straight into the second book, but I'll take my time reading it. I've got a year to wait for the third and final book in the trilogy.

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