When a plane lands at JFK with all the crew and passengers apparently dead but with no indications as to what could be the cause, the CDC is mystified. Nervous government officials would like to pretend that all is okay, but Dr. Ephraim Goodweather, head of the biological threat team, knows that something is terribly wrong and that it can’t be ignored. Within the next few days the city is turned on its head as passengers from that fateful flight start turning up all over the city, trying to make their way to their loved ones – only they aren’t quite the same people they were when they left home.
What The Strain lacks in literary gravitas is more than redeemed in the absorbing nature of its storytelling. Opening with a sinister folk tale told to entertain a young child, a feeling of dread was present from the very first pages as I pondered the many awful ways this myth could have burgeoned into the horrible mess unfolding in the present day. Del Toro and Hogan deftly move the story along, quickly providing just enough information to outline the attributes of the characters and to hint at the battle lines that might be explored and come to fruition with further development of the series. Dr. Goodweather stays on the move but you are aware of the situation that is shaping the custody battle for his son, and the conflict that his feelings for his sometime lover and his ex-wife engender. Similar character tensions are highlighted as the story progresses.
Along with being super suspenseful, The Strain is also extremely descriptive and gross. If you have the slightest bit of imagination you will literally be able to see everything unfold in front of your eyes – after all one of the writers is an acclaimed filmmaker. It’s no secret that this book is about some “strain” of disease/organism which spreads vampirism, but these vampires and the transmission process are like nothing you have ever experienced, and it is all very well-documented. While the book is in and of itself creepy, I could barely read it at times (and often tried to keep it as far away from me as possible, like that would help) for being equal parts creeped and grossed out. This book is not for the squeamish, and without giving anything away, you should avoid it like the plague (a little pun for you :-)) if you don’t like rats, worms, blood and generally anything that oozes or that might one day aspire ooze. It was seriously gross. I did wonder whether I would be able to make it through.
If I haven’t scared you away, and you are still reading, I did very much enjoy the developing vampire mythology and am curious to see how it will play out in future installments. This definitely fits the bill for a suspenseful, thrilling and horrifying read that ably sets that stage for an engrossing trilogy.