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Book Cover Image: The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck HoganTitle:  The Strain

Authors:  Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Eph Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold.

In a pawn shop in Spanish Harlem, a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian knows something is happening. And he knows the time has come, that a war is brewing…

So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city — a city that includes his wife and son — before it is too late.”

Thoughts: The Strain is the perfect fall read – spooky, fairly realistic in the portrayal of a medical pandemic, and suspense-laden. If it doesn’t get a reader in the mood for Halloween, nothing will! For my own part, I was so scared at some parts that I had to stop reading it at night before bed. One too many nights of restless sleep or difficulties falling asleep proved to me just how successful Mr. del Toro and Mr. Hogan were at building terror levels. (Granted, I did read this while my husband was out of town, so the empty house did not help matters.)

However, there is something rather tongue-in-cheek about the story that helped me get past my fears and allowed me to enjoy the rest of the story. The descriptions of the “vampires” – from their naked, jiggly flesh to the focus on their excrement – is not what one would expect to find when describing vampires. The melodramatic showdown, while suspenseful, was still over-the-top and somewhat laughable at times. The unlikely compatriots, in the form of an exterminator, a doctor, and the elderly pawn shop owner, also seemed just a bit too…contrived.

The description of the infected beings as vampires is confusing. They do not have fangs, nor could they ever pass for human. It begs the question why they are called vampires at all? Yes, they require blood to continue to exist, but one of the key traits/lures of vampires is the fact that they can be mistaken for living human beings. They talk, react/act like one would expect. The so-called “vampires” in The Strain are just not in the same vein as any other vampire.

The Strain is quite formulaic yet effective. It is laughable at times yet surprisingly scary. The horror is built around the fact that it is a virus, making fears about a flu pandemic seem quite tame by comparison while clearly depicting just how easily it would be to spread such a virus far and wide quickly. For any vampire lover, The Strain is a decent addition to the repertoire of vampire stories, even if it may not technically include vampires in the traditional sense. In the end, it achieves what it sets out to do – tell a creative story that allows people to laugh while cringing in terror.

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