Vince Darcangelo's Reviews > Patient Zero

Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
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Jan 08, 2009

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This review originally appeared in FANGORIA

Written by Vince Darcangelo
Wednesday, January 21, 2009 05:10 PM

Anyone who's read Jonathan Maberry's Pine Deep Trilogy, which culminated with last year's BAD MOON RISING, knows that the martial artist-turned-Bram Stoker Award-winning author likes his kill counts in the stratosphere.

That tally rises in his new book, PATIENT ZERO, a blood orgy of Islamic jihadists, biological warfare, corporate conspiracies, James Bond-esque gadgetry, super secret military operatives, terrorist zombies (seriously), and one bad-ass detective named Joe Ledger.

PATIENT ZERO actually trumps BAD MOON RISING in terms of terror. Whereas the Pine Deep Trilogy dealt with supernatural villains, PATIENT ZERO has a slightly more existential bent. An Islamic terror organization with ties to al-Qaeda has created a powerful, fast-acting plague that transforms people into zombies-and not the George Romero kind. These zombies are fleet-footed killing machines immune to most forms of attack.

In response, the newly formed Department of Military Science recruits Ledger to combat a terrorist cell that has infiltrated Baltimore. If the plague cannot be contained, it will mean the end of humanity.

On the plus side, the backdrop for PATIENT ZERO-the first installment of a new series built around Ledger-is well-conceived. Maberry has a talent for creating original settings for his good-versus-evil steel cage matches that remain vivid in your mind long after the final page. (I, for one, would still love to vacation in Pine Deep!)

The downside, though, is that Maberry's action sequences lose momentum from chapter to chapter. The seemingly endless number of epic battles-not to mention their against-all-odds quality-sets the apocalyptic tone, but could have been shortened for sharper effect. After a while, I found myself skimming through to the end of the battles, secure in the knowledge that Ledger would be able to fight his way through a warehouse full of zombies without my help.

Ledger himself is another shortcoming. One part noir detective, one part recycled Sylvester Stallone action hero, he is more cliché than character. He is a martial arts expert forever scarred by a traumatic past event. He's cynical and lives alone, his only friend being his equally smart-assed therapist. He's an exceptional cop, but is confrontational and challenging toward his superiors. See where this is going?

Ledger is an unfortunate departure from the Pine Deep Trilogy, which was constructed around a more compelling cast of characters, including an undead serial killer, a blues musician in search of exoneration and an embattled community of everyday people who become something greater when forced to pool their skill sets and their strength to overcome evil.

That said, like Maberry's prior work, PATIENT ZERO is an enjoyable read, and one that's hard to set down. I could have done with shorter action sequences, and wish I felt half as attached to Joe Ledger as I was to Pine Deep's Malcolm Crow, but this is a fun book and one that will be enjoyed by all devotees of over-the-top thrills and chills.

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