Part medical thriller, part vampire story, and part apocalypse, The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan and first published in 2009, mixes several previously distinct genres to form a (mostly) unique story. It's also the first book in The Strain trilogy. And yes, that's the same Guillermo del Toro who'd know for his directing efforts, the most notables being Hell Boy and Hellboy II, Pan's Labyrinth, and, most recently (2013) Pacific Rim.
Chuck Hogan comes to the book with several previous writing credits, with the highest profile of these being Prince of Theives in 2004, which was adapted into the academy award winning movie The Town.
A modern-day vampire novel, The Strain takes place in New York City, following the various adventures of a handful of characters as they deal with what's obviously not your run-of-the-mill plague outbreak. While an enjoyable read, it's rare that the characters rise above their seemingly central casting roots.
Dr. Ephraim Goodweather (Eph) is the chief of New York's Center for Disease Control's (CDC) rapid response team. Dedicated and obsessive, he's a workaholic who's inability to balance his life has led to a painful separation from his wife. He's involved in a custody battle with her for his son Zack, the son he never had time for before, blah, blah, blah.... .
On Eph's team we have Dr. Nora Martinez and administrator Jim Kent, two more cookie-cutter characters. Nora is a brilliant epidemiologist who's burdened with a senile mother who only wants to know when she's going to be a grandmother. Jim is the beleaguered paper pusher overshadowed by the brilliant doctors and with the dying wife. He would do anything to save her of course. Eph and Nora have a romantic history, Jim feels marginalized and helpless, and, as characters, they don't seem to rise up much beyond the few sentences here I've used to describe them.
When a 767 lands on the runway and goes completely silent, Eph and his team respond to find all but four of the over two-hundred passengers dead. All the evidence points to some sort of infectious disease, but they are unable to determine the cause or identify the agent.
Enter a much more interesting character, Abraham Setrakian, a now-elderly Jew who escaped a concentration camp during the WWII, Setrakian has a long history with the creatures about to descend on New York City, as well as the creature who created them, called simply The Master. Since his run-in with the beasties 60 years before, he's dedicated his life fighting the (unknown to the rest of the world) vampire scourge. Setrakian is an expert on vampire biology and how to kill them, but his age has finally caught up with him and he needs help. He manages to convince Eph and Nora about the looming danger and they set out to prevent wholesale takeover of NYC by the blood-sucking beasts.
Along they way they pick up a few more characters, the most interesting of which (to me) was Vasiliy Fet, a NYC rat exterminator from the Ukraine who works for the city's Bureau of Pest Control. On his own, Fet discovers something much worse than rats is breeding in New York's subways and sewers. He lends his strength and knowledge of New York's underground to the team.
The Master is one of seven original vampires, the youngest and most ruthless of the bunch. With human help, he's put into motion a plan to make-over the whole world as a vampire paradise, with the fortunate and worthy being turned into his vampire subjects, and the rest being keep as human cattle. He has human help of course: Eldritch Palmer, one of the richest men in the world. Palmer is terminally ill and craves the one thing all his money can't buy--more life. He struck a deal with The Master to get him into New York in return for being infected with the vampire pathogen and thus being granted immortality.
Despite some of my griping above about the cardboard characters, overall I enjoyed The Strain. It's decent light reading with writing that varies between pretty good and ugh. If vampires or end-of-the-world plague stories are your thing, you'll be more than satisfied.
I'll offer an addendum in regards to the television series on FX. I got about halfway through the first season (is there a second?) and stopped. I thought the acting on that show was mostly sub-par (with a few exceptions), and the kid who played Zack to be especially horrendous.