Book Review: “Patient Zero” by Jonathan Maberry

Posted: September 9, 2012 in Books
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I recently read a DVD review on “The Onion AV Club” that contained the line: “Popular culture passed the zombie saturation point long ago.”

The Onion A.V. Club is among my favorite sources for DVD reviews, but I’m not ready to concede the writer’s point. I mean, yeah, no arguing with the fact that there’s A LOT of zombie-related entertainment out there these days.

But is that a bad thing? That’s kind of like complaining that there were just too many hard-boiled detectives in the 1940s. Too many Westerns in the 1950s, or martial arts films in the 1970s. All of which is tantamount to complaining that there are entirely too many beers in the fridge.

To sum up the point that I’m currently beating into the ground – why complain about an embarrassment of riches? As long as the zombie stories are entertaining and of good quality, keep ‘em coming.

If you want to read a novel that justifies the continuing persistence of the zombie sub-genre, pick up “Patient Zero” by Jonathan Maberry – a very effective melding of the action thriller and horror story.

Yeah, the whole “plague of zombies” milieu has contained action thriller elements from the beginning. They kick in anytime a bedraggled band of survivors hoists shotguns and starts administering lead-assisted decapitations.

But we’re talking serious military thriller material here. In the form of Joe Ledger – tough cop with some dark secrets in his past, a knack for martial arts (he’s capable of taking out zombies by HAND for cryin’ out loud) and enough of a regular-guy vulnerable streak that he’s fun to root for.

NOTE: I should mention that “Patient Zero” came out in 2009. According to Wikipedia (I am nothing if not painstaking in my research efforts), there are four in the Joe Ledger series already out and two more on the way. But I just read “Patient Zero” for the first time. And as I tell people, this blog is devoted to the highly precise subject of whatever the hell I happen to be interested in at the moment. What can I say? The concepts “self-indulgent” and “blog” have never been what you’d call mutually exclusive.

After helping to take down a bunch of terrorists, one of whom proves curiously unwilling to die, Joe finds himself recruited by a mysterious intelligence operation tasked with protecting the world from an encroaching bioterrorism threat. (Spoiler: The encroaching bioterrorism threat is a zombie plague. But come on. That wasn’t REALLY a spoiler, was it?)

Yes, it delivers plenty of what you want and expect from zombie-related entertainment, in the form of hunkered-down defenders holding off wave after shambling wave of carnivorous corpses.

It also offers something sorely lacking in most other zombie fiction – the metaphorical chess game with a ruthless opponent. Scary as zombies can be, let’s face it. They don’t make for the most cerebral of adversaries.

In “Patient Zero,” a crew of devious and cold-blooded international terrorists is deploying the zombie plague for tactical reasons, with the assistance of some entertainingly slimy corporate types who have a sinister agenda of their own.

So it’s got a little bit of everything. International intrigue. A diverse crew of elite special operatives and scientists working against the clock to stave off a threat to humanity. A saboteur hidden somewhere in the ranks who must be discovered and stopped before it’s too late. And, of course, lots of zombies getting their heads blown off.

Will Jonathan Maberry’s “Patient Zero” redefine your concept of narrative storytelling? Doubtful. Will it keep you turning pages at a furious pace? Absolutely.

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