I finished reading Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’ last night, something I’d been encouraged to do by my agent (read it, that is, not finish with it) on the basis that, “The first third’s great, the rest’s crap*. But you could totally write something like this!”

(* He’s not a fan, to put it mildly, of anything SF-ish, so I’d expect him to say that regardless; the first third is the buildup to the apocalypse, the second two thirds are a hundred years later, after it’s happened.)

Reviews suggested it gets very woolly in the mid-section and that Cronin - who’s a fine writer - has a tendency to give everyone two pages of backstory, even if they’re going to be killed straight after it’s been explained. It does - I skim-read quite a bit of the stuff after the group leaves The Colony - and he certainly does. There’s a lot of coincidence and/or unexplained psychic behaviour towards the end (one survivor being hunted by her now-viral former husband despite the fact that he was turned something like 1,500 kilometres and several months away, for instance; I know they’re always supposed to “return home”, but that’s just silly), the Haven section is ropy as fuck, and Babcock’s nothing like as menacing and interesting a bad guy as his buildup during the Patient Zero early phase suggested. The finale, in fact, is a bit limp.

That said, the early stuff is very good, characterisation’s strong even if it’s over the top (a couple of iffy Stand-esque “wise old psychic women” aside) and the monsters - ignoring some idiotic garlic mention later on - are good and menacing without being too overtly vampirish. They’re certainly more ‘Darkseeker’ (the terribly CGIed vampirish types in the flawed but oh-so-much-better-with-its-rejected-ending ‘I Am Legend’ movie) than ‘Dracula’. Except with that stupid garlic reference. (Nicknaming “crossbows” as “crosses”, I could take. “Garlic. They love it.” not so much.) I’m not much of a fan of The Village-esque post-apoc societies, but aside from that personal gripe, the post-apocalypse itself is nicely described and evoked. And I do like a post-apocalypse, you know.

Worth reading, but a bit of a slog at times. I don’t know that I’ll bother with the other two forthcoming books in the eventual trilogy, but who knows.