Posted on January 12, 2011 by Flames
Available at Amazon.com
I’ve come to realize, somewhat unwittingly in more recent years, that Maberry scares me for reasons that go beyond the mere horrific. When I made my first serious foray into researching the occult, I didn’t realize until after the fact that my first fact finder’s guide just happened to have been written by the one who wrote this pithy little gem. But then, there’s always something about a writer whose writing not only gives you something you already know, but can serve to inspire other avenues of horror you were certain should have occurred to others by now – only didn’t.
Patient Zero is the first in a series of Joe Ledger novels (not to be confused with the Marvel character), revolving around a former Baltimore detective who is pulled into the shady world of the equally shady Church. And what else does his first assignment turn out to be but the Walking Dead (or at least a very close permutation of them)? Apparently, the war on terror with the Middle East is heating up, and the Department of Military Sciences is working tirelessly to contain payloads of infected hosts, before the zombie apocalypse makes the shift from harmless fiction to a terrifyingly real ‘what if’. I won’t give too much away about the plot, but suffice it to say, it satisfies. The premise shares certain similarities with the SIGMA series by James Rollins, where science and military get put together to ends you never would have suspected.
Maberry has been known to pay tribute to various horror franchises (and franchise icons) with his novels in the past. Fans of Ken Foree and Tom Savini might recall (or if this is your first sojourn into Maberry, will be pleased to know that) the two horror icons play cameos of themselves in Bad Moon Rising. Similarly then, he tends to franchise-jump in Patient Zero. By the time we’re halfway through, references to popular sci-fi, horror and even video games stand out in the run of Echo Team’s misadventures both in and out of their hi-tech security lab. In particular, we are given the very geeky head of military science Dr. Hu, fondly referred to as ‘Who’, who seems to be nothing but excited that the world is about to look like something out of Night of the Living Dead.
This brings me to one of my beefs with the story, however. Hu goes into a very long-winded spiel to Joe and company mid-novel regarding prion diseases, how they are incurable etc., and I found myself reading just to get to the next section. It’s extremely drawn out. That everything he talks about is true (or might be) doesn’t change the fact that the author is info dumping on his readers. In Rollins’ The Judas Strain, I’d have read something similar, learned a thing or two, and still remained completely enthralled. In Patient Zero, it reads more like a logical fallacy. We get hammered with so many facts and scientific jargon that it all becomes impossible to prove, disprove, or even really enjoy.
Another of my minor gripes come from the points of view Maberry employees. The story is presented to us in short, tight segments that flash-cut from minute to minute, and sometimes from second to second, between Joe and his team in Baltimore and the lab of the enemy in Afghanistan. The result makes for an extremely tense ride, the likes of which may owe its genesis to 24 (not surprisingly, as the Joe Ledger series has recently been optioned as a television series). To have Joe’s own segments, then, be given to us in the first-person doesn’t feel necessary. If anything, it makes the narrative sound clunky in some places, such as when he narrates his own fight sequences. The entire story might have been written in third person and I doubt it would have made much of a difference.
For a story that more than fulfills the basic edicts of proper storytelling however, these are really just minor quibbles. It boasts a well fleshed-out supporting cast to help Joe keep his feet on the ground amidst wading waist-deep in the dead (Rudy is on the fast track of being my all-time favorite secondary character; Grace not so much so). As well, the camaraderie shared between Joe and Echo Team is humorous and believable. And led by a facilitator who puts even the President of the United States in his place? That just makes you wonder whether or not true-to-life zombies is really the weirdest it can get. All in all, a great read. Looking forward to picking up The Dragon Factory.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Review by Jon Aylward