Patient Zero by Jonathan Mayberry
**** ½ 421 pages Trade paperback St.Martin Press
As a serious horror fiction reader Mayberry is a name I have been seeing a lot. Weather it was interesting titles on the shelf, or listing in award nominations I have seen his name a lot. He has been blurbed by heavy-weights I trust like David Morrell, Joe R. Lansdale and Peter Straub. That is high praise, and with that in mind I picked this one up at the library and didn’t understand what had taken me so long.
OK,OK this guy delivers on the hype. Patient Zero is a high quality zombie novel, like all the best zombie novels/films it has far more interesting elements than the zombies. I was attracted to the comparisons to Repairman Jack novels of course, I mean anyone following my reviews knows I am enjoying the hell out of those.
This novel fits into the same weird crime subgenre, and it is clearly the launch of a series of novels featuring a character named Joe Ledger and his team of anti-terrorists that work under the name “Department of Military Science.” Think of it as DARPA or Fringe division with a little more teeth.
The series and it’s story is a cross between Fringe and Repairman Jack, but don’t take that comparison the wrong way – it has an original feel to it. That is tough to do when you tackle zombies the most currently over used troupe in genre fiction. The fresh feeling to this novel really is a pleasant surprise.
This is the story of ex-military current Baltimore cop Joe Ledger, who has a knack for tracking down Muslim terrorists. He speaks several Middle Eastern languages and has a history in the service. The novel starts off in wake of a raid in Baltimore where he shot a suspect. Things get weird when a government agency recruits him – his first job to kill the same guy, uh kill him again. You see this time the dude is a snarling zombie. Ledger is asked to lead a new team that will hunt down the source of this new disease that re-animates the dead, which is believed to have a terrorist connection.
The horror elements are done really well, but one thing I really enjoyed was the crime novel feel. Mayberry captures the snappy witty dialogue that is essential to the crime novel (ala Lansdale, Leonard or Gregory Macdonald). Once the shit hits the fan in the novel some of the dialogue tappers off, this could be argued to be natural reaction to the events.
Mayberry weaves several influences together so well it is hard not to do comparisons. It’s part Tech-thriller, part zombie, part military sci-fi/horror, part witty crime novel, and part character study. Great read for horror, action and weird crime fans. I’m ready for the second book, here is hoping Mayberry keeps this series going strong for a long time.