Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry
“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.
And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.”
I have a confession to make. I’m thoroughly unsettled by zombies. It doesn’t matter if they are the old style slowly shuffling undead or fast moving rage fuelled beasts made popular over the last couple of years. The whole concept leaves an unpleasant sensation in the pit of my stomach. I think that it’s something to do with the thought that they were once alive. They were just like you or I. Now they are nothing – just an empty husk with the singular purpose of destruction. In an effort to face my fears I have started reading quite a lot of zombie fiction. Ironically, this constant observation of all things zombie has made me become slightly obsessive about them.
Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry has an interesting take on the zombie mythos. There are no supernatural elements at work here. These zombies are the product of scientific research. The main crux of the novel is that terrorists have developed a virus that kills swiftly and then reanimates the corpse.
Baltimore policeman Joe Ledger is involved in taking down a terrorist cell. This action brings him to the attention of the Department of Military Science (DMS). The DMS are a secret government department established to deal with threats of a scientific nature. They have the brains but require some more brawn. This is where Joe comes in. He joins the department as the new leader of Echo Team, the small swift response unit.
The thing I really liked about this book was that the author takes time to examine the psychological impact of having to dispatch zombies. The characters are not just physically damaged, the emotional aspects of what they are forced to do are also taken into account. Who wouldn’t be traumatised by having to destroy beings that were once men, women and worst of all, children?
The book alternates chapters between Joe’s induction into the DMS and the story of the religious terrorists who are planning to release the pathogen against mainland America. Eventually, these two narrative strands collide in a quite spectacular fashion. I read the blurb on the back of the book and both 28 Days Later and 24 are mentioned. I think the comparisons are reasonably apt. The story certainly has nods towards both, but is also inventive enough to deserve credit in its own right.
Joe is the main character and he was intriguing. He is written as an everyman who is forced into extraordinary circumstances. His internal dialogue really helps the reader to understand the horrific nature of the situations he and his team find themselves in. I have to admit that I found myself more interested in his new boss, Mr Church. He has enough of an air of mystery about him to remain an enigma throughout. There is some nice humour injected into the story with the Church character. It’s not often that you get to read the line “You just bitch-slapped the President of the United States“. How does Mr Church get away with that and not get taken out back and shot?
I think however that some of the other characters could have been fleshed out a bit more. The reader doesn’t learn a great deal about the rest of Echo Team but if this is going to be an ongoing series (see below), then hopefully there will be a chance to learn more of their back story in the future.
The good news is that there has already been a second novel published, The Dragon Factory. A third novel is due in the future. Hopefully some of these questions will be answered. I intend to find out.