Publishers: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date – 3 March 2009
Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.
A couple of weeks ago I listened to and reviewed the latest book in Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, Deep Silence, and found myself hooked on the insane, mad science based thriller adventure. After enjoying Deep Silence and giving it a five-star review, I started checking out some of the previous books in the Joe Ledger series that I had not had a chance to read before, and found myself enjoying the plot concepts of the other books in the series. The moment I finished listening to Deep Silence, I immediately jumped back to the first book in the series, Patient Zero, to review as part of my Throwback Thursday series.
When Baltimore detective Joe Ledger is assigned to a joint terrorism taskforce, he thinks it is an opportunity to fight back against the people responsible for 9/11. What he was not expecting was to have a crazed man try to bite him on his first raid with the taskforce after discovering a warehouse filled with terrorists. His elation about a job well done is destroyed when he encounters one of the terrorists again later that week. There is just one problem: Ledger knows that he killed him during the first raid. Someone has created a terrifying bio-weapon that can turn ordinary people into zombies, and worse, they have supplied this virus to a destructive terrorist organisation that plans to release it within the United States.
As the full extent of the horror being unleashed against them is revealed, Ledger finds himself recruited into a newly created covert organisation that was set up to handle extraordinary threats such as this. Known as the Department of Military Sciences (DMS), this organisation wields the latest technology and the country’s brightest scientists under the command of the mysterious Mr Church. As a member of the DMS, Ledger leads an elite team of combat specialists in the field in an attempt to contain any attempts to unleash the virus on the population and to destroy those who have already been infected. As Ledger’s investigation progresses, he uncovers an elaborate conspiracy that will have devastating impacts for all of humanity. But with the fate of the world in the balance, it soon becomes clear that there is a traitor within the DMS who has no qualms about unleashing a zombie apocalypse.
I have to admit that after absolutely loving Deep Silence, I had very high expectations when I started reading Patient Zero. Luckily I was not disappointed and found that Patient Zero had a fantastic action based storyline that makes good use of its mad science elements to create an intense and very enjoyable novel that sets up all the elements for this future series. I also chose to check out the first book in this series in its audiobook format, which, at just under 15 hours, is a great way to enjoy this high-octane story.
Hands down, the best thing about this novel has to be the zombies and the way that Maberry has created a compelling and intricate thriller story around this classic horror story concept. The thriller aspect of this is really clever. Rather than being the central antagonists themselves, the zombies are a tool being utilised in a wide-reaching conspiracy that the protagonists have to unravel in order to figure out the origins and endgames of the book’s true antagonists. These thriller elements are quite detailed, and Maberry utilises a number of chapters told from the antagonists’ point of view to add some depth to the conspiracy and showcase the extent of their plot, as well the problems these groups have. The protagonists also have to deal with potential traitors in their ranks, advanced science that they do not understand and a surprisingly organised, devious and well-equipped terrorist organisation. All of this is an extremely captivating thriller storyline, and I love how Maberry has managed to utilise the book’s zombie element to help flesh this out.
Maberry has also created a unique and intriguing zombie origin for this book that is based on potential real-life science. The zombies in this book are the result of a disease rather than a supernatural calamity. They have been created by some advanced science and extreme mutations of existing diseases and viruses, such as prion diseases. As a result, Maberry and his characters spend a lot of time examining the potential science behind this zombie virus, which pulls the reader in as they consider how close something this crazy could be to a reality. I was really struck by the way that Maberry tried to show the horror that these creatures would inflict on the people who encounter them, and the sheer terror that they inflect on normal humans. The point-of-view protagonists spend significant time explaining how terrifying and emotionally damaging it is to have to encounter and fight these infected people, as well as how guilty they feel about having to kill them. There are quite a few parts of the book where the characters discuss how damaging these events are to them, and it really adds some emotional gravitas to this story. Maberry is a prominent author of zombie fiction, so it is no surprise that he is able to create quite a number of awesome and terrifying scenes featuring the zombies as they attack and kill all around them. There are also some interesting zombie deviations that appear and offer some unique elements to the story. Overall this is an incredible and memorable addition to this story and one that will really appeal to fans of zombies and the horror genre.
Action is a major part of the Joe Ledger series, as the protagonist leads an elite special forces unit against all these elite scientific threats. As a result, there are a huge number of action sequences throughout this novel and the reader is constantly left with a racing pulse. There are so many great fast-paced elements throughout Patient Zero for action junkies to enjoy. Maberry is always great at describing special forces tactics in his stories, and I enjoyed seeing them used against the unique threats in this book. There are a number of excellent firefights throughout the story, and the author has a great mind to examining the psychology of a gun battle. Maberry’s love of martial arts and close-combat fighting once again shines through in Patient Zero, as his protagonist is an expert fighter who has innumerable hand-to-hand fights with a number of different opponents. While the above actions scenes are all extremely awesome, the best scenes have to revolve around the desperate fight between these elite soldiers and the horde of zombies that they encounter. These scenes are really fantastic and watching the special forces characters fight tooth and nail against a horde of zombies becomes a captivating and powerful part of this book. There are quite a few crazy action scenes throughout Patient Zero for the reader to look out for and which are defiantly a highlight of the book. I personally found that listening to these scenes in the audiobook format really brought me into the centre of the action, and it was an excellent way to enjoy this element.
Patient Zero is an excellent introduction to the Joe Ledger series and contains a number of elements that will continue into the rest of the series. I came to this book having first read the 10th and latest book in the series, Deep Silence. As a result, I was really intrigued to see what characters were introduced in the first book and which ones do not appear in the final book of the series. There are some interesting differences between Patient Zero and Deep Silence that I found quite fascinating. For example, the opponents and technology in this first book are a lot more realistic, as Maberry has yet to start utilising the Lovecraft-inspired aliens which feature in some of the later Joe Ledger novels. The head of the DMS, the mysterious Mr Church, also comes across as a much colder character in this first book, as well as someone who is more comfortable with civilian deaths and sacrifice if it results in the survival of the rest of the world. That being said, there are some familiar elements. Ledger is still an incredibly sarcastic and funny protagonist, and the author tries to highlight a huge range of varied viewpoints to show the whole range of the plot the DMS is trying to unravel. Patient Zero serves as a great introduction to the DMS, and I really enjoyed seeing the early days of this organisation. I also love how everyone is quite confused about what this organisation is and the mystery around Mr Church, who appears to have an incredible amount of influence and power in Washington. For example, at one point he actually tells the president of the United States that he is wasting his time and hangs up on him in, an action an incredulous Ledger describes as “bitch-slapping the president”.
Patient Zero is an incredible first novel in Jonathan Maberry’s incredible Joe Ledger series and one that serves as a fantastic introduction for readers unfamiliar with this series. Featuring all sorts of mad science, impressive action sequences, a five-star thriller storyline and a ton of amazing zombies, this is an outstanding novel and one that proves very hard to put down. After loving this book, as well as the latest book in this series, Deep Silence, I am now fully determined to read the rest of the books in the Joe Ledger series. Fully expect to see a review for The Dragon Factory very soon; I have no doubt that I will really enjoy that book as well.