Jonathan Maberry caught my attention immediately with Patient Zero’s dedication:
This book is dedicated to the often unsung and overlooked heroes who work in covert operations and the intelligence communities.And then he caught it again with the quote with which the book begins.
A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer. — Ralph Waldo EmersonI know a particular person who is one of those unsung heroes and so my natural inclination is to look approvingly upon the author’s sentiments.
However, I wasn’t here for a covert intelligence story or a spy story but for zombies. Also, because I’d heard the Writing Excuses podcasters praising the Joe Ledger series.
Then I heard the first two sentences of the book itself.
When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, then there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world.Aha. The hat trick … which also informed me that I actually was here for a covert intelligence story, for a spy story, and, this should go without saying by now, for zombies.
And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.
Here’s a quick story synopsis.
Joe Ledger is a hardened Baltimore cop with serious skills in physical combat. After a surprise raid on suspected drug traffickers, he is strong-armed into joining the DMS, a rapid response task-force that handles problems too big for Homeland Security. The latest problem is a terrorist’s bio-weapon which, for all practical purposes, turns the infected into zombies. While Joe and his team try to track and stop the threat, we also see the bad guys: a tangled knot of corporate interests and Muslim fanatics gearing up for the ultimate assault on American soil.
In a way this is a meta thriller. It is obvious that there are the standard types which are being used. The Warrior. The Super Villain. The Mad Scientist. The Best Friend who is also The Conscience. Characters will even call people by these labels. This is reinforced by such tidbits as when a scientist excitedly asks Joe if he’s read Doctor Spectrum comics where Joseph Ledger is a character. However, Maberry keeps it from being cliched. Perhaps it is the zombies but I felt it was also due to Joe Ledger’s character and the blistering pace of the book. Short, fast chapters keep the action moving and the reader on the edge of their seat.
As with many thrillers, the story is relatively formulaic. The good guys are very good. The bad guys are very bad. Joe bleeds red, white, and blue and there is no way he is going to let terrorists harm Americans. There is a bit of humor, a touch of romance, and a ton of suspense. And zombies. Lots and lots of zombies coming in wave after wave.
It’s a formula that works. We need heroes and villains in our stories. Sometimes it is easy to see who they are. Patient Zero works because Maberry reminds us of how much entertainment there is to be had in the telling of such a tale.
My one problem with the book was that there were a couple of extended zombie attack sequences where Joe and the team just had to keep fighting and fighting … and fighting. We’d have gotten the same effect by cutting out just a bit of the fighting, particularly in the crab plant. They didn’t really have to be down to the point of ripping legs off of tables for weapons in order for me to understand just how desperate the situation was. However, this is a small quibble.
Much of the delight in this audiobook comes from Ray Porter’s narration. He reads Joe Ledger’s lines as if he were Ledger himself, reacting perfectly with a naturalness that made me feel as if I were hearing Joe’s actual thoughts. I particularly enjoyed the moments when he would hesitate or pause to emphasize points because that carried me into Joe’s emotions much more than if I had been reading.
The only problem with the narration was that Porter was a little too thorough. There is one character whose identity we don’t know until the end of the book but who we hear speaking with his employer. As I listened, I continually wondered if Porter had randomly chosen the accent with which this character spoke. I found myself listening to other characters in the book, wondering if we’d met this character yet and if he had that accent. It didn’t give it away much before the book itself did but it turns out that the narrator was being true to the character and that is something that I don’t think would have come across in the actual book. This isn’t a big deal, but it was an interesting problem.
Overall, you have to like this sort of thriller to enjoy this book. But if that’s the sort of thing you like, as I obviously do, then you’re going to really enjoy meeting Joe Ledger. And wave after wave of zombies.