A Boeing 777 sets down on a JFK runway, it's lights off, shades drawn; a derelict vessel that merely seconds before was teeming with activity as it prepared for an uneventful landing. As emergency crews converge upon the plane, however, there's a growing sense that what happened during this particular flight's landing was anything but uneventful. When rescuers discover the bodies of the hundred-and-forty-plus souls within, the grim specter of terrorism once again casts its shadow over New York City. CDC Doctor, Ephraim Goodweather, and his rapid-response team are called to the scene, and, in their investigation discover (amongst other equally bizarre things) four survivors.
Meanwhile, Abraham Setrakian, a former professor-turned-pawn-shop-owner in Brooklyn, hears the news of the ill-fated flight, and fears that a malicious creature from his past - a creature that feeds on the blood of humans - has somehow made the journey to America. He seeks out Ephraim and his people, anxious to share his knowledge in hopes to prevent what he anticipates will be the plague to end all plagues, but Ephraim is understandably cynical. That is until he sees for himself the horrific reality of what it is they're facing. But, by then, is it already too late?
Originally developed as an idea for a television series, Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan's The Strain is the first chapter in a proposed trilogy (subsequent volumes will arrive in 2010 and 2011) that combines hard science and pathology with Del Toro's rejiggering of vampire folklore, resulting in an immensely entertaining, truly frightening tonic that is equal parts The Hot Zone and Salem's Lot. Hogan's prose alternates between breezy and meticulously researched medical journal, but each voice is satisfying, offering us both the sort of fast-paced, blood-soaked beach read we all crave , as well as the brainy scientific stuff that makes all of this seem remotely plausible (and that much more frightening).
And this is one scary book. Hogan may be known for his "procedural" crime thrillers, but, if the guy wants it, he's got a hell of a future in horror. I found myself practically tearing pages out of the book to see what happens next, while, at the same time, utterly afraid of what I'd find. This is the sort of horror Stephen King wrote in his prime; epic, primal stuff that resonates long after you've put the book down (and, believe me, once you've started reading this sucker, you won't put it down until it's done).
Del Toro, meanwhile, reinvents the vampire genre, eschewing the tired conventions in favor of a complete overhaul of both the folklore (we're introduced to the creature, "Sardu", through a cautionary tale told to a young Setrakian by his grandmother) and the means by which they consume blood. Gone are the suave and sexy vampires of old. These fearsome creatures live to feed and feed to live, and do nothing else. Think of the rogue vampires Del Toro concocted for Blade II, then add something akin to a slicing, sucking tendril, and you'll get the idea.
Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan have created the anti-Twilight; a breath of fresh air in the stagnant coffin that has become vampire fiction. This is a fast-moving, frightening, and fantastic summer read, but I do have one criticism, and that's the fact that I've got to wait an entire year to see what happens next.
C'mon Guillermo and Chuck, throw a guy a bone!!
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