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Thursday, February 26, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 7.0° F  Fair
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A Book A Week: The Passage by Justin Cronin
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I like to think I am tapped into what's current, at least when it comes to literature. Then the gods get wind of my hubris and drop a bomb on me to keep me humble -- in this case The Passage by Justin Cronin. Where the heck was I while everyone else was reading and talking about this book (and about the author's huge advance and about the movie rights and about the sequels....). Guys, what else am I missing?

If, like me, you've been living in a closet filled only with British literary fiction, here is a brief overview: The Passage is a futuristic techno-thriller about a world destroyed by vampires and the handful of humans left alive to fight them. Don't be put off by the vampire aspect of this story. There's nothing Twilight-ish about it; the vampires are the result of a military experiment gone horribly wrong, and Cronin has transformed the vampire myth into something that can be explained by virology. The vampires are glimpsed only fleetingly and are so repugnant and dangerous that no one gets near them and survives (well, almost no one). The vampires are just the scary thing that drives the plot forward; most of the story involves the lives of the humans who remain and their struggle to survive.

A lot of reviewers have compared this book to Stephen King's 1978 sci-fi-/horror classic The Stand. It does share some plot points with that book, but I felt like The Passage was a homage rather than a ripoff. This is a very 21st century book, with kick-ass female characters and a great use of technology. It's also a very tense read. Cronin sustains just the right level of dread for pages and pages. I couldn't read this before bed and had to wait to finish the last 10% (in Kindle units) until I knew I would be able to do it in one sitting.

Several of my friends have described this book as a "guilty pleasure." But why do they feel guilty about reading it? I don't. I'll read almost anything that has an interesting plot and is well written. Labels (blockbuster, bestseller, chicklit, romance) don't put me off; in fact, I want more guilty pleasures just like this. Luckily, the sequel The Twelve comes out on October 16.


Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.

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