The Strain, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

200906261557 I'm not a fan of vampire fiction, but The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan is more along the lines of a vampire-zombie-epidemic-in-New York-City, and wow is it terrific.

The first chapter (after the short prologue, which didn't interest me and almost made me abandon the book) is about an airplane that lands at JFK from Germany and goes completely dark on the runway. It's so creepy that when I told my wife and daughter about it *they* got creeped out just from my description.

Someone said The Strain is a combination of The Stand, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and I am Legend, which I'd say is a pretty fair way of describing it.

I was sent a review copy by the publisher, but I wanted to read it past our usual bedtime so I bought the Kindle version and read it in the dark on my iPhone so as not to keep Carla up with a reading light on. I recommend reading all scary books in the dark this way.

The Strain, by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan


  1. I happened to find this book, but in Spanish and entitled Nocturna, and wondered why there wasn’t an English version of a book by such a famous director. Turns out its just under a different title.

  2. Great, I just place a order yesterday, and then today read a book review about a book I’d probably like and now want. I hate when that happens.

  3. Was the captain lashed to the control yoke of his ship; like in Dracula?

    More importantly, how was the portrayal of the Renfield character? This is, subtly, the essential character; whose portrayal can make or break the book.

  4. I’ve heard two separate interviews with del Toro about the book. He’s a cool guy; a hip Spanish film nerd with a house full of horror and monster stuff.

  5. He just put the scary into vampire. Vamp novels as of late, have morphed the creatures into mostly benign characters. Take this Stephanie Meyers! Vamps do not make human children

  6. The Strain also features a character named Palmer Eldritch, a reference to Phil Dick’s best novel: The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch.

  7. I wasn’t too impressed with The Strain, actually. Guillermo del Toro is a master of smoke and mirrors, but that’s all I got in eighty-five pages: smoke and mirrors. I expected chills and violence but all it provided were bland, awkward characters and one long anti-climax.
    As a better alternative, try John Steakley’s Vampire$ or David Wellington’s Thirteen Bullets.

  8. I never realized how vampire and zombie fiction can actually blend pretty well like this.


  9. I’ve got to agree with #11. This book was ten pounds of banality in a five pound bag. The rest of this post pretty much just elaborates on that theme but seeing as how Del Toro is going to do two more books en theme I figure I’m entitled to spanking out a three hundred-odd words in cordial disagreement.

    Lauding a book is as being better than Stephanie Meyer’s tweenie vamps would be a perfect backhanded compliment, though I fear here it’s done in earnest.

    You want good vampire fiction? “Let the Right One In” by John Lindqvist which as far as I’m concerned is the last word on magnificent renderings of Renfelds. You want occult standing in really smartly for a pandemic (and all manner of other modern paranoia)? “World War Z” by Max Brooks. You want Nazis encountering vampires in Old World? “The Keep” by Jennifer Egan isn’t nearly as good as the prior two examples but at least it has the decency to stay focused.

    The vampires, such as they are, aren’t anything that hasn’t been done in Slither and Resident Evil 5 but you know what? If, as an author, you want mindless McGuffins, use zombies. Traditionally vampires get brains, motivations and personality. There’s no reason to have these McGuffins be vampires and so to me it seemed like a sloppy misuse of an established genre convention.

    And hey, howzabout the faceless main characters who came on like the illicit love children of every Grisham and Crichton protagonist. Heroic Mr. Wossname, newly divorced and with his son wrenched away from him by a wife who… oh god, I’d better stop in case some people don’t see a ‘twist’ coming and I get accused of *spoilers*. His plucky son, the Text Messaging Inferno. The Old Wise Ethnic Guy. The Old Wise Ethnic Lady.

    Nope, not enough bad things to say about this. Come to think of it, if there were more bad things then it would be good camp. This is just boring.

    And to think there are going to be two more…

  10. Totally agree with 11 and 13. I bought this book cos I loved Pan’s Labyrinth so much, and I’m so very disappointed. It’s a totally run of the mill zombie movie masquerading as a book. Except the zombies suck blood and everyone calls them vampires.

    To me a the strength of the novel as a medium is that it lets you get right in the characters head. This book was just a list of things happening. During the final battle I felt like I watching someone else play Left for Dead. Not very engaging at all.

  11. Aside from the weaknesses mentioned above, it’s also lazily plotted and poorly written.

    Del Toro and Hogan start us off with (and leave us with) rote two-dimensional characters, then pile on one clumsy bit of foreshadowing after another, sauntering through 85 pages before anything much happens.

    The point of view changes so frequently–usually introducing nothing much that moves the story along and justifies the change in POV–that no real sense of dread is created, much less maintained.

    And the prose itself is bad. Aside from the lazy pacing, the lazy characterization, and the lazy approach to narrative voice, del Toro and Hogan have also been lazy about their metaphors. In a well-written book would there be a paragraph like “But for a moment, Lorenza thought of the image of a large, rotting corpse, a beached whale. That was what the plane looked like to her: a festering carcass; a dying leviathan.” Nevermind the banal simile, the needless “the image of”; the authors can’t even decide if the beached whale is dead or dying, much less rotting or festering.

    To cap it all off, I’ve continued reading this mess in spite of my better judgment and on arriving at page 269–after the second night of the plague, by which point one should expect to be thoroughly terrified for the characters–I find that I really don’t care if I finish the book.

  12. I have to agree with the detractors — for all the hype, this ended up having the all the subtlety — and none of the suspense — of an airport novel.

  13. I’ll differ with the detractors. A lot of the elements they see as flaws seem to me to be simply artifacts of being the first part of a trilogy.

    For me, the take on the vampire genre as a medical thriller simply returns the genre to its roots; Dracula was for its time a metaphor for syphilis. The AIDS of Victorian England, it was deadly, incurable, stigmatized and associated with sexual behavior unacceptable to society. Seen in that context Dracula with its concentration on blood born evil and fought by modern medical science like transfusions made vampirism a disease metaphor more than anything else.

    So writing a new vampire novel as a medical thriller with all the conventions of a medical thriller simply brings the genre back home. I had more thoughts about it here:

  14. well i loved the book and cannot wait for the second (The Fall) so i can find out what is going to happen. im not into the whole vampire thing. i hated Twilight aswell as others, but this book has really got something griping about it. i think it has the potential of being the new Da vinci code.

  15. i just finished reading the book. and i enjoyed it. it scared me and creeped me out. I read somewhere that del Toro wanted to give The Strain a procedural feel, where everything seems real and if that was his purpose he definitely succeeded.

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