The Return Man by V M Zito
THE OUTBREAK TORE THE USA IN TWO. THE EAST REMAINS A SAFE HAVEN. THE WEST HAS BECOME A RAVAGED WILDERNESS. THEY CALL IT THE EVACUATED STATES.
It is here that Henry Marco makes his living. Hired by grieving relatives, he tracks down the dead and delivers peace.
Now Homeland Security wants Marco, for a mission unlike any other. He must return to California, where the apocalypse began. Where a secret is hidden. And where his own tragic past waits to punish him again. But in the wastelands of America, you never know who – or what – is watching you…
When it comes to zombie fiction, I’ve now reached the point where I’ve read quite a lot. Some may say too much? So much so in fact, that I have been actively trying to avoid reading any of late. I’m worried that it’s only a matter of time before I pick up a zombie novel and I’m going to absolutely loathe it. I’ll have reached saturation point and I just won’t be able to take anymore. The good news, however, is that The Return Man by V.M. Zito is not that time.
Henry Marco is a bit of an enigma. Living a lonely existence, by choice, amongst the ruins of society he is all about his work. Why has he turned his back on the living? What events have forced this isolated lifestyle? The main focus of the story follows Marco as he travels throughout the new world where he confronts not only the dead but also the ghosts of his past.
You would no doubt expect some serious gore from a zombie novel and I’m glad to say the author’s descriptive powers don’t ever disappoint.
The ear crunched between the cadaver’s teeth like a gory Dorito.
Eeeewww, that’s nasty isn’t it? The good news is that there are many more dark delights like that to discover. Zito peppers the text with some spectacularly horrific imagery. There is a nice mixture of out and out balls to the wall nastiness as well as a fair number of psychological scares. I particularly enjoyed Marco’s journey into a railway buffet car from hell. The feeling of claustrophobia in that one scene alone felt almost palpable. If you don’t enjoy enclosed spaces that chapter is going to stay with you.
And then there are also moments when The Return Man manages to be both heart breaking and harrowing in a single breath. It’s the mark of a great zombie novel when it doesn’t just go straight for the brain, it gets you square in the heart as well. When you finally discover the reasons why Marco has chosen to stay in the Evacuated States, I dare you not to be empathise with his plight.
I began reading this novel immediately off the back of a book that I didn’t finish. This happens very rarely, I finish about ninety nine percent of the book that I start and, if I’m honest, I was more than hacked off and looking for something to restore my faith in speculative fiction. The Return Man did just that. It caught my attention immediately and turned out to be the ideal remedy to my reading funk.
Zombie fiction can be a wonderful thing as V.M Zito’s debut novel more than adequately proves. It appears that there is definitely signs of life in these old coffin dodgers yet. Let’s just remember people, it’s only a matter of time before this sort of fiction becomes a startling reality. Reading zombie stories and watching the movies isn’t just entertainment it’s training. Oh, and don’t ever forget rule number one – Cardio.
Will Henry Marco return? I do hope so. Though there is a certain amount of resolution by the novel’s end, there are also just enough tantalizing suggestions that there is a larger story still left to tell. At the very least I need to learn more about the other denizens of the Evacuated States. In particular the para-military organisation, The Horsemen, they are featured in this novel but not heavily. I look forward to this author’s next novel with a sense of anticipation.
The Return Man is published by Hodder and is available now. Seek it out its well worth your time.