The Strain — Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Whatever you do, DON’T read this while on a layover at JFK. del Toro and Hogan successfully point out the intrinsic creepiness of airports, planes, and subway tunnels in the beginning of their Strain trilogy. The prose is creepy and at times unsettlingly funny, and the images described linger on in your mind’s eye in a way that is eep!-worthy when actually on a plane.

This story has two beginnings — for Abraham Setrakian, a Holocaust survivor, this is very much his grandmother’s story. She warned him of the evil Surdu when he was a sickly child, and it’s this grandmother-knowledge that saves him when he’s in the camps. Surdu preys on the evil humans are capable of — the camps were like a buffet of suffering and blood for him.* Setrakian makes it his mission to destroy the beast. He’s now an old pawnbroker in the middle of New York, and is the first one to realize the danger facing the city. He’s been hunting vampires all his life, and isn’t about to let little things like arthritis and heart conditions get in the way.

For Ephraim Goodweather and Nora Martinez, two epidimeologists from the CDC, the story begins when a plane full of dead passengers touches down at JFK. They put their careers on the line to figure out the cause of the passengers’ deaths, eventually realizing that NYC is now the epicenter of a vampiric virus able to destroy the world.

Eph, Nora, and Setrakian are the primary heroes of this battle against the dark. They are, however, joined by a panopoly of characters reflecting the diversity of New York City. A Haitian nanny realizes there’s something very wrong with her boss, and flees with her charges. Gus Elizalde, just out of prison, comes home to discover his ‘hood is much more dangerous than he originally thought. A housebound white woman with pronounced OCD must find the strength to save her family from a threat her rituals have not protected her from. A Russian American exterminator might be the only city official who knows that something is not quite right.

I’m curious to see how this translates into film — I’m hoping neither Nora nor the other female characters are dropped, and that the diversity of the book’s characters is reflected through casting decisions. Nora’s quiet fortitude made the book, as did the underlying tension between Eph and Kelly, his ex-wife, over the custody of Zack, their son. On the one hand, Pan’s Labrynth had several awesome female characters. On the other, Hellboy II was fail on the female character front.

*This motif is one of the cool things about this text — NYC was the epicenter of national mourning a few short years ago on 9/11. The ghosts of this national tragedy haunt the city, much in the same way these vampires hunt in it.


Want to win a copy of The Strain? Write a five point vampire survival plan, and post it below. The best submission wins. Contest closes 7/8/09.


  1. says

    I’ve heard so many good things about this book. I can’t wait to read it!

    As for my five-step plan:
    Many myths claim vampires are unable to cross running water.

    Step one: live in central Amsterdam.

    Step two-four: kick back and relax.

    Step five: profit!

  2. says

    Vampire survival guide

    1. sharpen stakes
    2. eau de garlique
    3. build moat around castle
    4. avoid all stragely attractive yet unsettling individuals
    5. realize there is not hope and prepare for eternity as pudgy middle aged vampire.

  3. fuzzybluemonkeys says

    1. Sing “Zombies Are A Girl’s Best Friend” so as to make them feel bad about themselves.

    2. Unleash the Zombie Hoard I’ve been hiding in New Jersey (so that’s what that smell is!) for just such an occasion.

    3. Realize there’s a slight problem when the Zombie Vampires start attacking.

    4. Get bitten by a Zombie Vampire.

    5. Rise from the dead as a Zombie Vampire– those sharp Vampire fangs make eating braaaaaaains so much easier.

  4. SunlessNick says

    This sounds like a very interesting book.

    Hm, plan.

    1. Garlic (actually the whole onion family) are known wards. Cultivate a lot of it in my diet, enough to flavour my blood.

    2. Keep a large number of seeds and rice grains in my pockets, ready to throw at any vampires I see (they are widely reported to need to count stuff like that).

    3. Live in a place with a running-water moat (I think we’ll all have that one).

    4. Add a picket fence and hawthorn hedge.

    5. If all else fails, initiate the zombie apocalypse as a scorched-earth policy.

  5. MaggieCat says

    Don’t writers generally try to get into film rather than the other way around? Then again, maybe expecting del Toro to go the traditional route is unlikely.

    1. Continue night owl tendencies and redheaded sun avoidance strategies that leave me so pale that my foundation colour is actually called “vanilla”.

    2. Continue avoiding garlic and onions because they’re icky/ pointy wooden things because I am klutzy/ religious symbols for oh so many reasons.

    3. Call doctor for copies of paperwork authorizing several blood transfusions per year/ phone local papers with own obituary.

    4. Obtain fake fangs.

    5. Blend in.

    Hey, I never said it was a strategy that would work for everyone. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a grey tabby to dye black. 😉


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