The Strain

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The Strain
2009 first edition hardback cover
Country United States
Language English
Genre Horror novel
Publisher William Morrow
Publication date
June 2, 2009
Media type Print, audio
Pages 401
ISBN 0061558230
Followed by The Fall

The Strain is a 2009 vampire horror novel by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan. It is the first installment in The Strain Trilogy, and was followed by The Fall (2010) and The Night Eternal (2011).

Del Toro first envisioned the story line as a television series, but was unable to find a buyer for the series.[1] An agent then suggested turning the story into a series of books with writer Chuck Hogan.[1] A television adaptation is currently airing on FX.

Plot summary[edit]

A Boeing 777 arrives at John F. Kennedy International Airport and is taxiing its way across the tarmac when it suddenly stops. All window shades are closed except one, the lights are out, and communication channels have gone silent. An alert is sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Ephraim "Eph" Goodweather, head of the CDC's Canary Project, a rapid-response team that handles biological threats, is sent to investigate. Goodweather and Dr. Nora Martinez board the plane, finding everyone except four people dead.

In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, former history professor and Holocaust survivor Abraham Setrakian knows something terrible has happened and that an unnatural war is brewing. So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected the passengers begins spilling out onto New York City's streets. Dr. Goodweather, who is joined by Setrakian and a small band of fighters, desperately tries to stop the contagion to save the city, and also his wife and son.



In 1932 Romania, the young Abraham Setrakian's grandmother tells him the legend of Jusef Sardu, a Polish nobleman who suffered from gigantism, and was brought to Romania by his father on an expedition to hunt wolves. The entire hunting party mysteriously died or disappeared, except for Sardu, who returned to his family home in Poland but was rarely seen by the townspeople; and he eventually became the village bogeyman.

Ten years later, the Setrakian family are forced to flee their home by the Nazi occupation.

Part One[edit]

A Regis Air Boeing 777 arriving from Berlin at JFK International Airport "goes dark" shortly after touching down. Unable to establish contact with anyone inside, airport authorities force open the airplane and discover the passengers and crew dead, with no obvious signs of violence. Suspecting a possible disease agent, authorities summon Dr. Ephraim "Eph" Goodweather, the director of the CDC's Canary Project. The call interrupts Goodweather's weekend visitation with his son, Zachary, who lives with Eph's ex-wife, Kelly.

Examining the bodies from the airplane, Eph and his colleague (and former lover), Dr. Nora Martinez, are baffled: no known viral or bacterial disease could kill so quickly; likewise, no traces of poison or other chemical agent are found. There is also a huge, elaborately carved wooden coffin, filled with soil, in the cargo hold that does not appear on the passenger manifest.

Contrary to their initial findings, three passengers and one crew member have survived: computer programmer Ansel Arbour, attorney Joan Luss, rock star Gabriel Bolivar, and airline pilot Captain Doyle Redfern. When Luss threatens legal action if they are not released, the CDC relents, overriding Eph's protests, though Captain Redfern voluntarily stays behind.

The plane arrived half-a-day before a predicted total solar eclipse over New York. When the occultation is complete, something stowed aboard the plane kills a luggage handler and escapes the airport, taking the coffin with it. Augustin "Gus" Elizalde, had been hired by an anonymous man to drive a van from the airport across the East River, not knowing he is ferrying the coffin into Manhattan.

In Spanish Harlem, Abraham Setrakian, an elderly pawnbroker, sees the news coverage about the plane mystery and realizes that "he is here." After watching Eph's televised press conference and his disagreement with the CDC's view that the danger has been contained, Setrakian goes to meet Eph and Nora. When he urges them to immediately destroy the victims' bodies, they dismiss his claims until Setrakian demonstrates familiarity about odd aspects of the bodies: the fact that no post-mortem decomposition has occurred, and each body has a tiny incision on the side of the throat. Setrakian is arrested after trying to gain entry into the morgue.

Eph's preoccupation with the crisis caused him to miss a scheduled appointment with the court-appointed family therapist. He is devastated to learn she is recommending to the Court that Kelly be awarded primary physical custody of Zach.

Part Two[edit]

Over the next 24 hours, the four "survivors" of the airplane gradually transform into vampires, while many of the "dead" passengers from the plane disappear from the morgue, and likewise return home to their families, spreading the infection. When the transformed Captain Redfern attacks Eph, Nora, and their colleague Jim Kent in the basement of the morgue, Eph kills Redfern in self-defense, then goes to bail out Setrakian, desperate to know what is going on.

Gus Elizalde and his friend Felix, while celebrating Gus's windfall, are attacked by one of the nascent vampires in Times Square, and Gus kills the vampire in self-defense, though not before it infects Felix. Gus is arrested for murder. He happens to share a holding cell with Setrakian, who urges him to kill Felix before it is too late.

In the basement of his pawnshop, Setrakian reveals that vampires (Strigoi) are real; there are seven original "Ancients," three of whom reside with their vampiric progeny in the Old World, while three reside in the Americas. The seventh, a rogue, has declared war against the others by crossing to America and beginning to infect its populace. Setrakian has already calculated that the infection will overtake Manhattan in less than a week, the United States in three months, and the whole world in six months. He also warns that the seventh Ancient, "the Master," must have a powerful ally, since vampires cannot cross bodies of water without human aid.

That same day, exterminator Vasily Fet is called by a friend to an upscale home in Tribeca, where the household's young daughter was bitten by a rat. Fet tracks down and captures the rat, noticing that it is uncharacteristic for such a large specimen to be aboveground during daylight. Similar instances all over Manhattan lead Fet to suspect that something below ground is driving the rat population to the surface.

After viewing Jim Kent in the hospital, where Setrakian shows Eph and Nora the telltale signs that he is transforming, the trio tries to track down the airplane passengers, since Setrakian explains that newly turned vampires are driven by a homing instinct to return to their homes and infect their family and friends first. At a home in Freeburg, Eph and Nora are paralyzed when confronted by the youngest victim of the plane, an eight-year-old girl turned into a vampire. Setrakian dispatches both the girl and her infected father (explaining that, while many of the legendary means of combating vampires - such as garlic, crucifixes, and holy water - are ineffective, vampires are vulnerable to silver and ultraviolet light).

Part Three[edit]

During the second night after the plane has landed, the infection spreads to the neighbors of the plane victims, and then outwards, exponentially. The morning after, Eph and Nora return to the CDC's New York headquarters, where Director Everett Barnes tells them they are under arrest for the murder of Captain Redfern. The video footage of Redfern's attack in the morgue has been doctored to remove the proof of his vampirism, and shows only Eph smashing the man's head in with a fire extinguisher. Setrakian holds the F.B.I. agents at bay with his sword, allowing him, Nora, and Eph to escape.

As they return to Setrakian's pawnshop, Nora says it looks hopeless: without the resources of the CDC, they have no way to quarantine Manhattan before the infection spreads to the rest of the country. Setrakian says they have one course of action left: because the vampires operate as part of a hive mind, like insect drones, they can contain the infection by destroying the Master, who is, for the moment, landlocked in Manhattan.

Before leaving to track down the Master, Eph goes to Kelly's home to say his goodbyes to her and Zach, to plead with them not to believe the news coverage branding him a murderer and a fugitive, and warning Kelly, in the strongest terms, to leave New York with Zach before it is too late. Kelly is inclined to follow Eph's instructions, but after Eph is gone, her jealous boyfriend, Matt, tells her she is being irrational and convinces her, against her own better judgment, to "wait and see" rather than leave immediately.

After going on the run, Eph abandoned his own cell phone and has been using Jim Kent's instead. Scrolling through the call log, Eph notices a large number of calls made to Eldritch Palmer, the elderly chairman of the Stoneheart Investment Group, and the third wealthiest man in America. Setrakian recognizes the name, and realizes that Palmer is the Master's human ally, exchanging the fate of the human race for immortality for himself. Eph and Nora are forced to accept that Kent, their friend, was Palmer's mole inside the Canary Project, and that the Master's plan for coming to America has been prepared well in advance.

Going to the home of Ansel Arbour, one of the "survivors," Eph, Setrakian, and Nora find him chained in a shed behind his house. While destroying him, Eph records the act with a small video camera, as proof of his vampirism. After this, they receive a call from Fet, who encountered two of the nascent vampires during his latest rat-catching job. Since his section of the New York Pet Department of Pest Control is part of a pilot project funded by the CDC, Fet happens to have Jim Kent's number. When they join forces, Fet quickly absorbs Setrakian's revelation about vampires, and says he has isolated the Master's likely hiding place: underneath The Bathtub, the pit where the World Trade Center once stood.

Part Four[edit]

Waiting for daylight before entering the lair, Eph drops by his apartment to change clothes. He is confronted by the Master himself, who taunts him that he already has Kelly and Zach. Setrakian drives him away before Eph is bitten. Eph rushes to Kelly's house, where he is attacked by the now-vampiric Matt, but Eph kills him in a rage. Miraculously, Zach appears, unhurt, having spent the afternoon with a friend, but there is no sign of Kelly.

While Nora stays behind to watch Zach, Eph, Setrakian, and Fet enter the Master's lair, killing dozens of new vampires, and driving the Master through an escape tunnel to Gabriel Bolivar's mansion. They drive him to the roof of the building, where he is scorched by sunlight, but not killed, and jumps down to disappear into the shadows. Setrakian admits that the Master has powers unlike any other vampire, and Setrakian has failed, again. They now have no way to stop the plague from overtaking Manhattan, but they can only keep fighting.

While Gus Elizalde is being transported out of the city in a police van, Felix turns and attacks the other prisoners. Gus escapes, killing Felix. When he runs home, it is too late: his older brother Crispin has already been turned, and has infected their mother. Gus emerges onto the street and fights several newly turned vampires, until a group of fully mature vampires appear and kill the new ones with specialized weapons. These vampire-hunters abduct Gus and take him to an abandoned mine outside Nazareth, Pennsylvania, where the three New World Ancients prepare their response to the Master's "incursion." They decide Gus, capable of moving about in daylight, will be conscripted as a vampire killer.

Returning to Kelly's home in Queens, Eph encounters one final horror: Kelly, now a vampire, is driven by a primal need to find and infect her son. Eph drives her away, knowing that she will never stop pursuing Zach unless she is destroyed. With Zach's help, Eph posts the video evidence of Ansel Arbour's vampirism online, then, for the first time in years - being a recovering alcoholic - pours himself a drink.


In a series of flashback-style chapters, the teenage Setrakian is interned in the Treblinka extermination camp where his woodworker skills save him from immediate execution. At night, he observes the Master slipping into the prisoner barracks to feed on the elderly and sickly inmates, whose deaths are dismissed as routine by the camp authorities. Setrakian prepares an improvised weapon, a silver-tipped stake, but his attempt to kill the Master fails; the Master crushes both his hands, ending Setrakian's usefulness to the Nazis and all but ensuring his immediate execution. However, the next day, August 2, 1943, Setrakian escapes the camp amid the confusion of the Treblinka prisoner uprising.

After the war, Setrakian returns to the Treblinka region and locates the Master's lair in the old Roman-era ruins. He finds the Master's coffin, but instead of the Master, he finds one of the camp guards, recently turned into a vampire. Setrakian's old injuries prevent him from combating the vampire, but he causes the ruins to collapse and exposes the vampire to sunlight, killing it. Setrakian, though physically handicapped, swears a lifelong vow to hunt and find the Master and to acquire the necessary knowledge and weapons to destroy him.


Dr. Ephraim Goodweather[edit]

Head of the CDC's rapid-response team, the Canary Project, Eph is a newly divorced father attempting to balance the custody battle over his son Zach with his duties as an epidemiologist. He and his Canary team are the first-response team to the Boeing 777 disaster, and are tasked with solving the mystery of the mass casualties. Unable to reconcile the symptoms of the newly infected airline passengers with standard disease pathology, Eph is convinced of the reality of vampires by Abraham Setrakian. Discredited at the CDC by the vampires' human conspirators, Eph finds himself a fugitive from both the human authorities and the undead. The need to protect his son drives Eph's every action.

In the television series, he is played by Corey Stoll.

Dr. Nora Martinez[edit]

A skilled epidemiologist, Nora is second in command of the Canary Project. She and Eph have been attempting an office romance with mixed success, complicated by their high-stress medical careers and Goodweather's lingering melancholy over his looming divorce. Nora quickly dedicates herself to uncovering the vampire conspiracy, and is determined not to be relegated to doing the "woman's work."

In the television series, she is played by Mía Maestro.

Professor Abraham Setrakian[edit]

A Romanian Jew, Setrakian was held in the Treblinka extermination camp during the Second World War, where he became aware of the Master feeding on the weak and sickly inmates. His first attempt to stop the Master was a failure, leaving him with multiple fractures in his hands that never healed properly. After escaping from the camp, he dedicated his life to hunting down the vampiric scourge for more than six decades. Originally a professor of East European literature and mythology at the University of Vienna, Setrakian was dismissed and forced to go into hiding after refusing to help Eldritch Palmer locate the Master. Wielding an ancient silver sword with his nearly crippled hands, Setrakian is an expert on vampire biology and destruction, and recruits Eph and Nora to his cause. His determination and will are strong, but his weak heart has become an obstacle to his lifelong quest.

In the television series, he is played by David Bradley, and by Jim Watson as a young man.

The Master[edit]

One of the seven original "Ancients," the propagators of the vampire race, the Master scorns the truce between the six others and intends to eliminate their strains and subjugate the entire human race. By the time of his arrival in New York, having spent nearly a millennium in Europe in various host bodies, the Master currently inhabits the body of Jusef Sardu, a 19th-century Polish nobleman afflicted with gigantism. Through the cooperation of Eldritch Palmer, promising the dying billionaire immortality, the Master has gained unlimited financial and political power to ensure the success of his plan.

In the television series, he is played by Robert Maillet, and voiced by Robin Atkin Downes.

Vasiliy Fet[edit]

An exterminator of Ukrainian ancestry working for the New York City Bureau of Pest Control, Fet's occupation soon leads to his discovery of the truth about vampires while working in a derelict building. Reaching Eph through a professional connection at the CDC, the exterminator lends both his skills as a vermin hunter and his powerful physique to Setrakian and Goodweather's cause. Loyal and unwaveringly brave, he becomes a surrogate son to the old professor.

In the television series, he is played by Kevin Durand.

Augustin Elizalde[edit]

A Mexican gang member fresh out of prison, Gus is attacked by a newly turned vampire on the streets of Times Square and is subsequently arrested by the police after throwing the creature under a truck. Learning the truth about vampires from a temporarily incarcerated Setrakian, Gus escapes confinement and finds himself to be a natural vampire slayer on the streets of his tenement neighborhood. He is recruited by the three American Ancients as a "day hunter" against the Master's exponentially spreading hordes.

Gus shares his last name with makeup and special effects artist Mike Elizalde, who has frequently collaborated with Guillermo del Toro, including on del Toro's films Blade II, Hellboy and Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

In the television series, he is played by Miguel Gómez.

Eldritch Palmer[edit]

One of the richest men in the world, Eldritch Palmer craves the one thing that all his money cannot buy: immortality. The elderly tycoon's fear of death leads him to make a pact with the Master, trading his vast fortune, political influence, and the fate of the human race in exchange for an undead place at the vampire king's side. (His name is an in-joke reference to the 1965 Nebula Prize nominated novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick)[citation needed].

In the television series, he is played by Jonathan Hyde.

Dr. Everett Barnes[edit]

As the Director of the Centers for Disease Control, Barnes is Eph and Nora's direct superior. Skilled in the politics and media aspects of the medical industry, he is a shrewd bureaucrat who carefully maintains a quaint, "country doctor" image. His insistence upon wearing a Navy style Public Health Service uniform, combined with his white goatee, make him resemble a "combat-decorated Colonel Sanders." His response to the Boeing 767 crisis makes clear he is a politician first and a doctor second, more concerned with maintaining public order and the CDC's reputation than acknowledging the growing number of anomalies that point to something more sinister taking place.

In the television series, he is played by Daniel Kash.

Jim Kent[edit]

Eph and Nora's colleague, and the chief liaison between the Canary Project and the rest of the CDC. Well-meaning, he has nonetheless sold his services to Eldritch Palmer, who has recruited Kent as a spy under the guise of being concerned about any impending health crisis. Kent is attacked by Captain Redfern in the basement of the Jamaica Hospital Medical Center and begins transforming into a vampire. In order to avoid news of the vampire infestation leaking out prematurely, Palmer has Kent retrieved by two actors impersonating Eph and Nora, and then incinerated in the furnace of a defunct factory.

In the television series, he is played by Sean Astin.

Kelly Goodweather[edit]

Eph's estranged wife and current opponent in a drawn-out custody battle over their only son, Kelly is a public school teacher and fiercely protective mother, pulling no punches in her attempt to paint her husband as the less suitable parent. Eph constantly worries about the growing influence of her milquetoast live-in boyfriend, Matt, on their son Zack. But when the Master begins sending out his followers, Kelly ends up becoming infected and becoming a means for the Master to track down Goodweather and the resistance.

In the television series, she is played by Natalie Brown.

Mr. Quinlan[edit]

Known as "the Born", Mr. Quinlan is a rare human/vampire hybrid. The son of the Master who is now the Ancients' chief hunter and bodyguard. He is efficient and loyal, recruiting Gus Elizalde to help him and his squad in their mission to kill his father. Mr Quinlan is disgusted by his father's actions, and is determined to stop him at all costs.

In the television series, Mr. Quinlan was introduced in the fifth episode of Season 2, and is played by Rupert Penry-Jones.


The Times Literary Supplement carried a review by Peter Millar dated 23 May 2009. The review praises the novel's "arresting start" and frequently alludes to Guillermo del Toro's career as a film director by comparing the novel to a Hollywood movie. The implication may be that del Toro intends to direct the film version of the novel. The review closes by calling The Strain a "rattling piece of escapism" with a "predictable" blockbuster ending.[2] Xan Brooks of The Guardian calls the novel "a pulpy, apocalyptic fable" and a "fast-paced, high-concept outing that seems tailor-made for either a big-screen adaptation or - as Hogan has enthused - 'a long-form, cable-type TV series'. And yet at the same time this opening salvo also looks to the past; doffing its cap to an illustrious ancestor."[3] He calls the vampires "mindless, undead leeches."

Zack Handlen, writing for The A.V. Club, was less enthusiastic, concluding that

"the result is a predictable but generally engaging thriller. The chapters come in short bursts, mimicking the editing of a big-budget epic. It makes for a fast read, but the rapid-fire parade of characters means that few make an impact. The world-building works best when it's distracting from cliché, instead of trying to inspire honest emotion. Del Toro fans will recognize certain familiar tropes — the quest for immortality, the vampiric physiognomy, and the ever-popular things in jars — but those motifs are muted on the page."[4]

Similarly, Deirdre Crimmins described the novel as "an imperfect vampire book" marred by "some very awkwardly worded phrases and poorly described scenarios scattered throughout the book" and some "terribly clichéd" characters.[5] Jeff Jensen, reviewing The Strain for Entertainment Weekly, wished for more evidence of del Toro's participation, saying, "It's hard to believe he found time for such an ambitious project — and after reading the book, it seems clear he didn't. ... The Strain is a competently constructed piece of entertainment, and I'll give it bonus points for shaking up some vampire clichés. ... The novel could have used a little less Hogan and little more del Toro."[6]


Comic books[edit]

In 2011 production began on a comic book adaptation of the book trilogy with Dark Horse Comics.[7] Writer David Lapham and artist Mike Huddleston were announced as working on the project,[8] with the series as a whole spanning an estimated 24 issues.[9] The first issue of The Strain was released in November 2011 to mostly positive reviews.[10][11]


Story Arc Issue Release Date Trade Paperback Collection Hardcover Collection
The Strain 1 December 14, 2011 The Strain — Volume 1
October 15, 2012
ISBN 978-1616550325
The Strain — Book One
July 9, 2014
ISBN 978-1616555481
2 January 11, 2012
3 February 8, 2012
4 March 14, 2012
5 June 13, 2012
6 July 11, 2012
7 August 8, 2012 The Strain — Volume 2
June 5, 2013
ISBN 9781616551568
8 September 12, 2012
9 December 12, 2012
10 January 9, 2013
11 February 13, 2013
The Strain:
The Fall
1 July 17, 2013 The Strain — Volume 3:
The Fall
February 5, 2014
ISBN 978-1616553333
The Strain — Book Two:
The Fall
April 22, 2015
ISBN 978-1616558369
2 August 21, 2013
3 September 18, 2013
4 October 16, 2013
5 November 20, 2013 The Strain — Volume 4:
The Fall
July 2, 2014
ISBN 978-1616554491
6 December 18, 2013
7 January 15, 2014
8 February 19, 2014
9 March 19, 2014
The Strain:
The Night Eternal
1 August 20, 2014 The Strain — Volume 5:
The Night Eternal
May 6, 2015
ISBN 978-1616556389
2 September 17, 2014
3 October 15, 2014
4 November 19, 2014
5 January 21, 2015
6 February 18, 2015
7 March 18, 2015 The Strain — Volume 6:
The Night Eternal
December 2, 2015
ISBN 978-1616557874
8 April 15, 2015
9 May 20, 2015
10 June 17, 2015
11 July 15, 2015
12 2015

Television series[edit]

In 2012 it was announced that FX had ordered a pilot episode of The Strain with the intention of creating a limited television series based on the books.[12] Before writing the book trilogy, del Toro had initially planned the books as a television series and stated that if picked up, the series would span three to five seasons.[1][13] He also commented that he and Hogan would co-write the script for the pilot episode and that as of November 2012 he had already begun casting.[14] Del Toro further commented that he planned to also direct the pilot episode, with a full season airing in 2014 if the show was picked up.[14] It was later announced that a second full season was ordered by FX to air in 2015. Following the fourth episode of season 2, FX renewed the series for a 3rd season, after which the creators announced they hope it will last for a total of 5 seasons.


  1. ^ a b c "‘The Strain’ Drama From Guillermo Del Toro And Carlton Cuse Gets Pilot Order At FX". Deadline. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  2. ^ Millar, Peter (23/05/09). "Thriller: The Strain by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan". Times Literary Supplement. United Kingdom: The Times. Retrieved 05/08/09.  Check date values in: |access-date=, |date= (help)
  3. ^ Brooks, Xan (12 June 2009). "Fangs ain't what they used to be: Dracula gets a modern makeover in a filmic chiller". The Guardian. United Kingdom: The Guardian. Retrieved August 5, 2012. 
  4. ^ Handlen, Zack (June 18, 2009). "The Strain". The A.V. Club. The Onion, Inc. Retrieved August 5, 2012. 
  5. ^ Crimmins, Deirdre (2009). "The New, Improved Undead". Open Letters Monthly. Boston, MA: Open Letters LLC. Retrieved August 5, 2012. 
  6. ^ Jensen, Jeff (May 27, 2009). "The Strain (2009)". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 5, 2012. 
  7. ^ "New Dark Horse Comics by Guillermo del Toro, Tom Morello, P.C. Cast Comic-Con". Comics Alliance. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  8. ^ "Comic-Con 2011: Guillermo del Toro, Tom Morello, P.C. Cast Doing Dark Horse Comics This Fall". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  9. ^ "Guillermo del Toro Takes on Comic Book Adaption of Vampire Sci-Fi Trilogy". Reelz. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  10. ^ "Review: ‘The Strain’ #1 – 4". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  11. ^ "Review: The Strain #1". Crave Online. Retrieved 19 February 2013. 
  12. ^ [February 2013 "FX’s ‘The Bridge’ Picked Up To Series"] Check |url= scheme (help). 
  13. ^ [February 2013 "'Hobbit' Director Guillermo Del Toro Talks Vampire Novel 'The Strain'"] Check |url= scheme (help). 
  14. ^ a b Chitwood, Adam (13 November 2012). "Guillermo del Toro Talks FX Series THE STRAIN; Says Casting Has Begun for the Pilot, Which They’ll Shoot Next Year". Retrieved February 2013. 

15. FX Renews 'The Strain' for Third Season. The Hollywood Reporter Retrieved 7 August 2015.

16. 'The Strain': Carlton Cuse, Guillermo del Toro Reveal Five-Season Plan. The Hollywood Reporter Retrieved 7 August 2015.

External links[edit]