Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Book Review: The Complete Strain Trilogy

The Complete Strain Trilogy

In Hollywood terms writing and directing an Oscar nominated film gives you the weight to throw around and get the projects made that you have been dying to make. Guillermo Del Toro was one of my favorite directors long before Pans Labyrith. I think he is one of the most exciting directors working in genre today. Since his huge surprise Spanish language hit Del Toro has failed several times to get projects off the ground, some were to grand in scope (At the Mountains of Madness) or to delayed in production (The Hobbit). He has still been up to some exciting things including producing films(Don't be afraid of the Dark) and co-writing a trilogy of vampire novels called the Strain.

The project that began as a TV series pitch by Del Toro (who pointed to HBO's The Wire as influence) with the structure of the novels following three possible seasons of the show. It is really to bad that idea never became reality, but Del Toro was not prepared to put this idea to death. Del Toro is a talented writer and storyteller who knew he needed help with some of procedural details that were important to the first book. So he teamed up with noted crime fiction author Chuck Hogan, known for his bestselling novel Prince of Thieves (made into the film The Town).

Depending on who is commenting on the novels, you'll see comments suggesting that “it is clear that” Del Toro or Hogan did more of the writing. Both authors went at length to suggest that neither did heavier lifting during the writing process. The only thing we know for sure is that elements of both authors show up and the duo made for a great story telling team.

The first book in the trilogy starts as a slow burn, focused on the mystery of a plane that lands in NYC with a load of dead bodies. It is a great set-up for a medical mystery thriller, similar to Andromeda Strain or an early Robin Cook novels. During this first act Hogan's skills for unfolding a mystery, and GDT's monster and mythology skills are perfectly balanced to give the book a very strong atmosphere. A lot of this first book is setting the rules, mythology and characters.

I have seen a few reviews that said the characters were lacking and that was not the case for me. The novel is told through several very notable and likable characters. The hero of the story or focus is a recently divorced father and CDC investigator Eph Goodweather, but other characters included an old world vampire hunter Setrakian , a Mexican wrestler, a rat exterminator Fet and several Mexican gangsters trying to survive the end of the world. Not to mention the vampires which included the only half breed naturally born vampire referred to by the vampire master as “The Born.”

I enjoyed the characters and thought they were developed with such a slick touch that (screenwriters have to rely on) most readers might not have noticed. Some authors writing epics will spend a hundred pages building characters that can be established in less than page. This is the case here.

All of this sets up the story of The Fall, which lends itself to kicking ass. The first book filled with world building and information dumps, but it's a lot of stuff as a novelist you have to do. How do the Vampires work? Who are the characters? What are the rules. So for book two we have all those things established and we are ready to rock. Even though I knew it was an end of the world story involving vampires I found the process still included a deeply shocking ending.

I knew I would dig this book, I love a great end of the world apocalypse novel, McCammon’s Swan Song is perhaps my favorite and while it’s not as sprawling as Swan Song or as intimate as I Am Legend, The Fall strikes perfect balance. Not too long, not a lot of wasted fat, the story cooks along at a great pace. Del Toro's cinematic editing and pacing skills became clear towards the end of this second book which worked very well with Hogan's skills for writing action. At the end I was left stunned and dying to read the third book.

Building an epic is easier than ending one. Ask most fans of Stephen King's the Stand or IT which are crazy long well told stories that left most readers unhappy. They still love the books, but something about the end has not sat well with most readers. From a lot of the fan reaction to the Night Eternal it is clear that a few fans felt let down.

I think the second part is the best of the Trilogy, but the Night Eternal to me was a satisfying entry into the series. I think there were a lot of interesting ideas and creative issues that the authors touched on that could have been expanded, but for the most part the story is told with a tight focus. I was impressed with the tiny moments from the first two books that payed off here, IE the international space station.

My only problem with this entry in the trilogy was a misguided attempt to connect the story to judeo Christian myths, to me this undid some of the power of the first two books and almost contradicted the story. In the end I am was happy the trilogy and think it is a major accomplishment that should be enjoyed by all horror fans. My hope is that Hogan and GDT will work together again and if not that we have not read the last Del Toro novel.

1 comment:

breadman said...

dave...totally agree with your view on bringing in religion. didn't work for me and doesn't really seem to fit with most of GDT's other work.
keep up the good work brother.
Mark Boardman