Sunday, May 16, 2010

CBII Book 16: The Strain - Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

I found Guillermo del Toro's debut novel to be like taking a deep breath of fetid air that has been stuck inside a casket with a body that's been decaying for years and could actually be poisonous due to all the biological agents that may be lurking unseen. It's a book that, while written with Chuck Hogan, verily reeks of del Toro's hand at every turn of the page. It's a story that begins with a mystery and ends with a terrible answer that may destroy a nation.
 The opening of the book finds us on a plane about to land in New York. Everything is normal and it has been an uneventful flight but, just before touchdown, the radio goes silent. The control tower erupts in a panic as the 777 stops dead on the runway. There are no communications, no lights, no movement, no answers,  nothing. The airports emergency response team is dispatched and it would appear that their worst fears are true. Everyone is dead. Dr. Ephiram Goodweather, the head of the Center for Disease Control's response team is called in to investigate on his weekend off. He has to leave his teenage son, who is at the centre of a fierce custody battle, and immediately begin to determine what disease would kill and entire plane full of people with no warning, no blood, no panic and no struggle. Upon towing the plane to a hanger to begin unloading bodies and go through the plane piece by piece, he discovers four people on the plane that are still alive, barely. He also discovers a strange, old wardrobe in the cargo compartment that is filled with soil and doesn't appear on any manifest that he can find. Perhaps most disturbing, the finds a veritable bloodbath of some strange liquid splattered all over the crew compartment.
The survivors are taken to the hospital and the deceased are distributed to various morgues throughout the burroughs to begin autopsies. Eph and his team go to question the survivors and are confronted with even more of a mystery. No one remembers anything nor can they explain what may have happened. They all seem to be recovering but something isn't quite right. Next they go to the morgue to witness the results of the autopsies. The bodies have been infected with something that almost looks like cancer but has also mutated some physilogical aspects of the deceased. Later that night, the survivors are released from the hospital and the victims of this unexplainable occurance, leave the morgues.
I loved this book. While it was utterly predicatable and suffered from a mostly formulaic plot, it was so far from the vampire stories we've been exposed to for the last...fifteen or so years that I felt it totally made up for its shortcomings. The Strain is about as far away from Twilight as you're going to get. Hell, it makes Anne Rice's books look like bedtime reading for toddlers. The descriptions are graphic, the story is nuanced, and the legend of the vampire has not been romanticised at all so far (but I do have a doubt about the next two books). These fuckers are monsters. All they want to do is eat and they don't care how. Whether it's a daughter devouring her father or a mother feeding from her son, all bets are off. While they do play with the accepted cannon, I have to say that I didn't find del Toro and Hogan's twists to be unbelievable or insulting. (sparkles anyone?) I'd definately recommend it to horror fans and I will be purchasing book number two as soon as I can get my hands on it.