Patient Zero, by Jonathan Maberry

3993839Another great zombie novel! I must be on some kind of streak. Jonathan Maberry’s Patient Zero combines the best of Tom Clancy with the zombie genre. In it, we tag along with Joe Ledger, a Baltimore cop, who gets recruited to work for a government agency that protects the US from threats that Homeland Security and the other alphabet agencies would brush off with a laugh.

There were so many ways that this book could have gone wrong. Terrorists. Mysterious manipulated diseases. Macho men with guns. A government agency with outrageous technology, unlimited funding, and legal carte blanche. But the care that Maberry took with his research and his characters saves the novel from turning into “Hulk see terrorist! Hulk smash!” You can see this care especially in the characters. You get to see their ideals, their fears, and the motivations. They aren’t just stock characters, especially with Ledger. Being able to peek inside his head saves him from being a he-man knight-in-shining-armor cardboard cut out.

The other potential stumbling block is the zombie disease itself. Rather than being some mystical mojo or an undiscovered disease. The zombie disease here is based on prions that have been manipulated and molded into something that turns its victims into creatures that definitely match the criteria: aggressive, unreasoning, impervious to pain, and generally refusing to die. Because prions are so little understood, Maberry was able to make this whole zombie thing kind of plausible because we just don’t know what they’re capable of.

My big question is, if Ledger returns, will he face this sort of horror-movie threat again? Or will the series become more of a traditional sort of espionage thriller? I sincerely hope that Maberry keeps up his blending of science and the supernatural. Patient Zero was a lot of fun to read.

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