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Review: New novel The Strain starts strong, stretches too far

BY KRISTEN PETERS | JUNE 17, 2009 7:20 AM

Guillermo del Toro proved he was a visionary genius with the release of Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006. Chuck Hogan earned respect in 2005 when his solo novel, Prince of Thieves, won the crime genre’s Hammett Award. These two noteworthy men then collaborated to release the The Strain — part one of a trilogy posing as a simple exercise to stretch the pairs’ brilliant fingers.

Despite the duo’s successful background, The Strain does nothing more than gloat fancy lingo and exemplify how to write a book that is just Twilight on some serious “CSI” steroids.

The story launches with a foreboding warning that a hoard of vampires who have been waiting patiently to take over the world are now going to do so. With this births a painfully logistic and awfully pompous trilogy of vampiric proportions.

The Strain begins with Flight 753’s journey from Berlin to JFK Airport, which stops cold on the landing strip.

Upon inspection, the craft is completely dead — the window shades are drawn, the lights are out, and all propellers have ceased. But the plane itself is no less deceased than the 200 passengers on board who have nearly all phenomenally passed away with no signs of struggle or visible wounds. Despite the disaster, four people remain alive.

After the accident, The Strain introduces readers to the main characters. They are Eph, a doctor, his colleague Nora, whose character carries sexual frustration and a romantic past, and Abraham, an old Jewish man who has unlocked the undead’s secret. The three depart on their quest to discover the mystery of the mass-death of the passengers and plane.

The three characters find a coffin full of dirt somewhere near the tail of the aircraft that no one remembers loading. Around a 100 pages in, the dirt disappears — killing a few in its tracks.

Two hundred pages in, the reader doesn’t have any idea about what is actually happening in The Strain, except for the introduction of a black-caped figure.

The Strains genesis was captivating, with detailed descriptions of the Boeing 777 and in an eerie way the story manifested itself into readers’ brains. However, once the character of Dr. Dread and his scythe appeared, the interesting and bewitching draw of the book died hard.

Although it’s a not a piece of cinema, The Strain falls somewhere in a pathetic middle section. It’s too real to write off as gory fun and too fake to hold readers in the realm of possibility.

Del Toro and Hogan’s melodramatic ramblings were intriguing for the first half of the book, with the possibility that The Strain would end up as a brilliant piece of literary work, but it instead falls short with genius writing and no reliable plot.


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