I don’t want to offend anyone here, but THE FALL, the second installment in the Strain Trilogy by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, is a real vampire book. Don’t get me wrong; I love seeing teenagers with books of any sort, and that includes the Twilight series and The Southern Vampire Mysteries, and all the authors and books those have inspired. But when you’re dealing with vampires, you don’t choose teams or peacefully co-exist in Louisiana hamlets. You watch 30 Days of Night, start melting down the silver, and sharpen anything that looks like a spear. And read THE FALL.
If you read 2009’s THE STRAIN, you don’t need an introduction to THE FALL. If you haven’t, here is all you need to know. On September 24th, a plane on an intercontinental flight from Europe lands at JFK Airport, taxis to the tarmac and stops. The aircraft is very cautiously approached, and it’s soon discovered that almost everyone aboard is dead, or worse. Soon vampires are running amok in New York. Officials are in denial, and the social infrastructure is crumbling. There are only a few people who are aware of what is going on. They include Abraham Setrakian, a Holocaust survivor who has been hunting vampires for decades; Ephraim Goodweather, an epidemiologist at the Center for Disease Control; and Vasiliy Fet, a Ukrainian-born exterminator whose skill set has suddenly become extremely handy. None of what is occurring is happenstance. One of seven Ancient Ones --- vampires who have existed for centuries --- has come to the United States, determined to be far more than an equal with his brother vampires. He is aided by Eldritch Palmer, one of the three wealthiest men in the world. Palmer wants to leave his frail, chronically ill body by being turned (into a vampire, that is) and thus exchange his mortality for eternal life, and is willing to sacrifice humanity to do this. By the end of THE STRAIN, Manhattan as we know it is fundamentally changed.
THE FALL picks up almost immediately after the conclusion of THE STRAIN, and chronicles the horrific occurrences of the following three weeks or so (with some remote flashbacks concerning Setrakian) as the vampires take Manhattan --- and beyond --- and civilization begins to fall. It starts with a neat trick, a document indicating that the end of the novel is going to bring very, very bad news. As you read the book, it’s difficult to imagine it ending any other way. Palmer uses his quiet influence to institute a news blackout concerning the true nature of what is really going on. The disappearances and deaths are blamed on a virus, and resistance to the ever-growing number of vampires is practically non-existent. Setrakian is hopeful that a legendary book, long lost to history, will contain the answer to defeating the Master once and for all. Goodweather plots an assassination attempt that he believes will upset the uneasy equation of the alliance between Palmer and the Master.
At the same time, Goodweather attempts to protect his son Zach from Kelly, Zach’s mother, who has been turned and whose maternal instincts demand that Zach join her at any cost. The Ancient Ones, meanwhile, are extremely unhappy with the Master. They utilize Gus Elizade, a hardened criminal who loves killing, to do their bidding. The unholy alliance between the Master and Palmer begins to fray. Palmer is impatient to be turned, an occurrence that the Master has been delaying, for reasons of his own, even as Palmer lays his own plans for wresting control of things from the Master.
The real story, however, takes place in the streets of New York, in the shuttered bodegas, in vacated apartment buildings, and in subway tunnels where vampires hunt for food and scattered resisters fight a valiant, bloody and ultimately futile battle against them. If the number of subway riders on the New York transit system drops over the next several weeks, THE FALL might be one reason. I will tell you in no uncertain terms that the novel is believable and terrifying. I have been reading this type of literature for over a half-century, and I have never had nightmares like I had last night after reading it.
THE FALL should come with a defibrillator, wrapped in crime scene tape, and bound in garlic (which doesn’t work as vampire repellant, by the way). It’s still a little early to be talking about it, but this might be the book of the year.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 21, 2011