The story takes place mainly in New York, where a plane from Germany has landed, completely silent, and with no sign of life on board, the day before a solar eclipse. When the plane is breached by federal agents, the bodies of everyone on board are discovered sitting peacefully in their chairs. Fearing a contagion or biological weapon, the CDC is brought in. Enter Ephraim Goodweather and Nora Martinez. The two find more questions than answers when discovering that the bodies of the dead are not only not decomposing, but experiencing post-mortem changes. The mystery only deepens when four of the people on the plane turn out to be not-so-dead. When an old man shows up talking of vampires, they dismiss him as a senile, old kook. But Ephraim, curious about the man's knowledge of the condition of the bodies...and his challenge to expose them to ultraviolet light, Ephraim discovers that the world he thought he knew hid dark and deadly secrets as ancient as mankind itself. And that one of them has been unleashed on a population that is not ready to combat it.
Where this book works for me, is with the vampires themselves. These are not the clove-cigarette-smoking, leather-clad Euro-types featured in so many recent vampire flicks. Nor (thank all that is holy...or unholy) are they moody, angst-ridden teen models sparkling their way to love and glory. (Sorry, "Twi-hards." There's room in my philosophy for the Twilight series...but not on my shelf. We're just gonna have to agree to disagree.) No, these are hideous, violent, hungry beasts, driven by instinct and the craving for blood. There is a science behind these creatures, a pathology, if you will, that disdains the usual superstitions regarding vampires. As Blade can tell you: "Crosses and holy water don't do dick." (although, for some reason that is never explained, Del Toro and Hogan go with one of the oldest superstitions - that vampires can't cross running water without help - as true) And the way in which these vampires feed is both cool and disgusting.
The problem, at least for me, is that it's been done, and better. Justin Cronin's epic work, The Passage, is another apocalypse-by-way-of-vampiric-parasite tale that spans generations, and kept me up all night, reading to the end. The characters were more developed, the writing better, the vampires cooler.
Of course, pretty much any horror writer has to try his or her hand at a vampire story: it's a rite of passage. And some will be better than others. They can't all be 'Salem's Lot. That doesn't mean you can't enjoy them, and I think I would have enjoyed The Strain a lot more, if not for one particular convention Hogan and Del Toro went with in this book that drove me absolutely ape-shit. It was the habit of including a scientific lecture at crucial moments. It seemed like every other scene, the author would include an explanation for how something worked. Sometimes it works. Sometimes, it's even necessary. When Ephraim and Nora are putting on their hazmat suits, there is an explanation on how the suits work. I was fine with that, though I found the delivery a little pedantic. But it's unforgivable to interrupt what should be an emotional moment to go all PBS on me. When you're about to reveal the vampire for the first time, I do NOT give a kiwi's feathered ass about why a solar eclipse is not actually an eclipse at all (and yes, this actually happened). When a character (secondary, sure, but still someone I've spent time with) kills herself, I want to feel that moment, maybe to grieve a little bit. I do not want to have the moment interrupted with a lecture on how the method of suicide chosen is the least effective method, successfully employed only on 5% of first-time attempts. Are you kidding me???
Listen, as a writer, our goal...no...our JOB is to gently take the reader by the hand and lead them on a journey from their everyday world and into the one we have created...and keep them there. Anything - from bad grammar, to misplaced commas, to characters acting out of, well, character - that can wrench the reader out of the story and back into present is to be avoided. Jar the readers out of the story too many times, and many will decide that it's not worth it to go back.