You may be thinking that the last thing the literary world needs is another vampire epic bound for the big screen. You may be right. But Justin Cronin’s The Passage is here, and Ridley Scott has already bought the film rights, and so far as vampire epics go, this one is actually rather original. Cronin puts a post-apocalyptic spin on Dracula — his vampires, known as “virals,” are the result of a top secret government project gone awry (the only way top secret government projects ever go in horror fiction), and they are lethal killing machines, responsible for wiping out the entire United States, possibly the globe. The Passage is a strange hybrid in other ways as well: Cronin, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, was known for his literary chops in prior books Mary and O’Neil and The Summer Guest, neither of which got within sniffing distance of The New York Times Bestseller List. The Passage is, in spite of its blockbuster trappings, still a literary affair. But it’s not an especially intriguing one after page 246, when the first third of the book culminates with a cliffhanger … and then jumps ahead one hundred years to an entirely new cast of characters, none of whom are nearly as compelling as the ones Cronin has just cast aside. It’s a gutsy move — Cronin has an eye toward a more sweeping narrative (it’s a planned trilogy) — but not a rewarding one. To be fair, it’s less that the final 500 pages are bad (they certainly aren’t) than that a possibly great book peters out into a simply good one. Comparisons to The Stand abound, and many of them are fitting. But like The Stand, it’s the book’s opening act that’s most memorable. The beginning is magical; the end merely inevitable.