By Alan Cheuse, Special to The San Francisco Chronicle
Saturday, November 5, 2011
By Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan
(William Morrow; 371 pages; $26.99)
If you have read the first two volumes in this smashing new trilogy about a worldwide vampire plague set mainly in New York, I need only tell you that the third and final volume is now in stores. You already know that the "Strain" trilogy, the collaboration by filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro and novelist Chuck Hogan, is the only truly worthy successor to Anne Rice's beautifully composed vampire chronicles,.
Combining Del Toro's fabulous visual imagination and Hogan's narrative pacing, these novels carry you away on the wings of darkness and provide nearly a thousand pages of shadowy and dangerous entertainment.
The first two installments, "The Strain" and "The Fall," gave us the story of how the plague first spread throughout New York City with all of the speed and tenacity of a waking nightmare, and offered some historical and (the most difficult for me to take, but I accepted them in order to enjoy the story) spiritual and supernatural roots for this monumental horror.
"The Night Eternal" takes us to the edge of Armageddon, with the vampire Master having exploded nukes around the world to create a climate with only two or three hours of light a day and established a regime that partakes of all of the strictness and cruelty of Nazi rule. We read that "when the sun backlit the ashen filter of the sky - what passed for daylight now - the city became eerily quiet. Vampire activity ceased, and the streets and buildings lit up with the ever-changing light of television sets. Reruns and rain; that was the norm. Acid, black rain dripped from the tortured sky in fat, oily drops ... the gloaming of the city was like a sunrise that would not turn over."
As the convention of horror thrillers would have it, a small band of anti-strain fugitives struggles to survive and to make this gloomy world right again. It features a former Centers for Disease Control doctor named Ephraim Goodweather, whose wife has been "turned" by the vampire Master and whose adolescent son, Zack, is being groomed to become the next human host for the seemingly immortal monster; Nora, an ex-CDC doctor whose boss has become the medical overseer of one of the vampires' major camps for bleeding and breeding human beings; Fet, a New York exterminator who becomes a champion vampire hunter; and, by Vol. 3, some Chicano gangbangers from New Jersey whose skills at crime turn out to be extremely useful in the fight against the blood drinkers.
The novel comes to us in a weird, loose style in which multiple points of view proliferate, constantly shifting and re-forming the story, which, in its essence, resembles nothing less than a montage of fear-making moments we love to hate. The novel is an art form in which special effects come cheap. In the hands of Del Toro and Hogan, the chills and thrills of supernatural terror create such inevitability that while reading their book I feared that, when a cloud passed over the face of the sun, light might never return.
Alan Cheuse is a book commentator for National Public Radio. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared on page E - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle