Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Strain - Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan

 'The first in a trilogy that soars with spellbounding intrigue. Truly, an unforgettable tale you can't put down once you read the first page.'

Clive Cussler.

 'Blood and apocalypse mix in a terrifying story that feels like it was ripped from today's headlines. Vividly wrought and relentlessly paced, The Strain haunts as much as it terrifies.

James Rollins.

Well I hope you all know who Guillermo Del Toro is because it will save me the time of informing you! Suffice to say he is one of my favorite film makers, and he gave the world the brilliant, Pan's Labyrinth, in 2007. Around the time I heard that Del Toro was contemplating writing a novel, and it was a surprise to me to see his name on the spine of a book in my local library yesterday!!

 And not just on one spine but two!! I had no inclination what so ever he had actually done it!! The Strain then is the first novel in the so called, 'Strain Trilogy', which is co-authored with Chuck Hogan. The initial problem for me with two supposed authors though is, who actually had the most input. I find a suspicion sneaks in when a man like Del Toro, with an internationally recognised name and reputation, supposedly writes a novel as to how much of it is his and did he REALLY write it.

 I can't answer that question and we may never know, but I'm keeping an open mind on it as I hope by putting his name on the cover it wasn't a commercial ploy to sell books. Anyway that niggle out of the way is it actually any good?

 Well in any critiquing situation all I can say is yes...and no. It is well written, and I do think the use of Chuck Hogan is evident here, as the writing is just too competent for a first up novelist as Del Toro is meant to be. It is full of a lot of technical things in regards to rats, medical terms and facts, and other general stuff, and it is all well researched, factual and explained in easy terms to the reader. It is in 'layman's terms', but not to the point of patronisation. I do feel a hint of Del Toro/Hogan giving their audience the benefit of some intellect which impressed me, as it is a good way to get the reader on their side, and come back and buy more books. Simple things like that work and are subtle marketing ploys.

 At 401 pages it is actually a fairly hefty novel in this day and age of the air-port thriller, that takes up 250 pages, and can be breezed through in a few effortless hours. I read this in about 10 hours so it is quite meaty. And it is a genuine page turner!! It is a hideous clique these days to call a novel, 'page turner', and generally they aren't!! But The Strain is and I just couldn't stop!! I mean I started it at 9.00pm last night, and was still going at 4.30am this morning!! I got up to page 280 and finished the rest several hours ago.

 So yes, once you are into the first page it hooks you, and pages do tend to fly on by quite rapidly! As a suspense/horror novel this works, and the skill involved in making this type of novel work is immense. But it can throw up several pitfalls. Namely at times as my desire increased to know what happened next, I found my mind wanting to skip chapters and find out! It is only a mental thing but it became disconcerting in trying to fight the urge back! Also at times when I struck a chapter ( of which they are very short ) which I felt a bit flat, I had to again suppress the desire to skip it! But in all I did read every word in the novel!

 In a literal sense then, The strain, works extremely well for the type of genre it is, and in the way it is written. But unfortunately it isn't exactly original in premise. Recently you may be aware I reviewed Richard Matheson's novel, I am Legend. If you haven't read the novel then I strongly urge you to do so as it is a brilliant, and extremely influential novel. So influential in fact that, The Strain, has lifted an enormous part of it's premise and used it itself. It's not plagiarism but the premise of a vampire that carries a parasite is very much, I am Legend. Also so is the idea that vampires are creatures of myth. One character in ,The Strain, says they are myth ridden because of a certain Irishman, namely Bram Stoker, from his novel, Dracula. In, I am Legend, and, The Strain, the vampires are completely different to the commonly held perceptions of what a vampire is.

 So there is a palpable lack of originality running through the novel. I couldn't escape the, I am Legend, parallels, and yet another cropped up as well. Sure it is expanding the vampire myth but it smacked of the novel, The Day of the Triffids. If you know this classic sci-fi novel you will be aware that the Triffids killed the blind humans with a long stinger. In, The Strain, the vampires also have a long stinging tongue, albeit to draw blood and infest the victim with the virus. I know a Triffid is different from a vampire, but the two stingers are too close for comfort in premise for me to feel Del Toro/Hogan haven't borrowed the idea.

 The novel concerns a plane that lands at JFK airport in New York that mysteriously fails to unload its passengers. Through a series of events involving a bio-hazard unit, they find the plane full of dead people with no visible reasons for death. From there things quickly spiral out of control as the narrative swings around New York, with many scenes at the site of an excavated Ground Zero. It also goes back in time to the extermination camp of Treblinka, where a character had encountered the strain before. ( I won't tell much more as it will only lead to spoilers, and I want you to read the novel without initially knowing too much! ).

 The Strain, then has its plus and minuses, but overall I enjoyed the novel. It is a genuine, genuine page turner with all the inherent strengths and flaws that entails. It is initially quite creepy, but after a while that wore off, and it became a vampire hunt and kill exercise. Unfortunately it has an under-current of unoriginality as it feels too close to two other very famous sci-fi/horror works. But that aside, for the type of novel it is it ticks enough plus boxes to satisfy.

 Even without Del Toro's name on the cover it would still be a good enough novel for me to pick up and read. Amazon has this with 4 four stars out of 5, from 385 reviews. A fair grading as it does more than enough when so many other novels of the sort don't.

 Now I'm off to read the second novel of the trilogy, The Fall!!!!!!


  1. Had problems with this book as it started off great, good build up and then repetitive action, not all bad but I never followed on in the series, a book that really did feel like a sotry of two authors?

  2. You are right and I think you hit the same problems I did. The action did become a bit repetitive. As I said it became nothing more than a vampire hunt.
    The two author issue is a concern. I just don't buy into Del Toro having much of an input.It feels like an attempt to put his name to it to boost sales.
    But overal it did enough for me to want to read the second novel.

  3. I very much skimmed through your review of this one Brent.

    I bought The Fall ages ago not realising I started off with book two of a trilogy so The Strain is very much on my to buy list.

    It has been impossible to buy and I have a real dislike of ordering books online so it's up to Fate when I get around to reading this! (I like to browse the shelves and see what catches my eye)

    I am taking it as a good sign that you went straight onto The Strain

  4. I got mine from the library. Like I stated I didn't even relise Del Toro had written these! I've tried to keep any spoilers out of what I wrote.
    They are worth reading and I wish I had the third instalment already! This one is a genuine page turner and I couldn't put it down. The second isn't as much of a page turner but stil a good enough follow up.