Patient Zero
Jonathan Maberry

St. Martin’s Griffin/Press
Review by Nickolas Cook

This is the best zombie novel I’ve read to date.

It even knocks Brian Keene’s classic take on the undead, The Rising, out of its top spot.

Starring Joe Ledger, Maberry’s badass antihero – part Spenser, part Jack Bauer and all superbad — Patient Zero starts fast and nasty and doesn’t let up for 400 pages. It is a hell of a thrill ride, folks.

Ex-police officer Joe Ledger thinks he’s going to join the FBI, but he’s soon being quietly drawn into a super secret government agency that reports straight to the President. His new boss, Mr. Church, is a cipher, cold blooded, without emotion. He sets Ledger up with a team of trained special ops killers to take down a vicious terrorist organization set upon loosing a nasty zombie epidemic on the world in the name of their god.

Maberry even uses the same narrative pacing device as the hit show 24 by keeping strict time of the events, which take place mostly within a three day time frame. Maberry keeps the chapters short and full of character development and forward narrative thrust. He gives us the science we need, when we need, and doesn’t allow its complexity drag down the most important thing in the story: saving the world from a super virus that makes infectious living dead who rise and make more undead with their bite or scratch. Smartly, he borrows just what he needs from Romero’s zombie rules, but doesn’t turn it into another rehash of Romero’s undead world. He does acknowledge the classics – both modern and old – of the undead genre: 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, etc., etc. And if you’re a true blue zombie fan, you’ll catch them all.

Another great device Maberry uses to his advantage is the switching POVs, from 1st to 3rd to keep it moving along, giving us exposition without sacrificing excitement for details.

But he also does something that isn’t so easy in a book with this sort of breakneck pace. He makes characters that leap from the page, even the villains. No one is left feeling like a cardboard cutout. Any of them could be someone you know. Well, that is if you know people who work for top secret government agencies that deal with undead on a regular basis.

But most importantly, Maberry treats his people with humanity. He acknowledges the fact that violence leaves an emotional mark, no matter how Charlie Bronson you think you might be. What makes Joe Ledger stand out is the fact that he has to switch from being a caring, loving person to a cold blooded killer with the ability to destroy with the pull of his trigger or the flick of his wrist. And he does not take that lightly. It gets to him, even though he knows the people he is killing will kill innocent people if given the chance.

Maberry knows his martial arts and his weapons. He should. The guy’s background reads a little like his antihero, Joe Ledger. He’s got extensive martial arts and combative tactics experience, along with personal knowledge of the weapons he writes about in Patient Zero. He knows the work of terrorists and the tactics used by antiterrorists to prevent their violence on others.

In a word: realistic is what you get with Patient Zero. A scary realism that leaves you disturbed at times.

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