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Monday, March 2, 2009

“Patient Zero” by Jonathan Maberry (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Jonathan Maberry Website
Order “Patient ZeroHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt
HERE
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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Jonathan Maberry is the multiple Bram Stoker Award-winning author of “Ghost Road Blues”, “Bad Moon Rising” and “Zombie CSU: The Forensics of the Living Dead”. He is a professional writer and writing teacher and since 1979 has sold more than 1100 articles, seventeen nonfiction books, and six novels, as well as short stories, poetry, song lyrics, video scripts, and two plays. In 2004, Jonathan was inducted into the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame largely because of his extensive writings in that field and is also a martial arts master holding an 8th degree black belt in Jujutsu, and 5th degree black belts in Kenjutsu (Japanese swordsmanship) and Hapkido.

PLOT SUMMARY: When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week there’s either something wrong with your world or something wrong with your skills . . . and there’s nothing wrong with Joe Ledger’s skills. And that’s both a good, and a bad thing. It’s good because he’s a Baltimore detective that has just been secretly recruited by the government to lead a new taskforce created to deal with the problems that Homeland Security can’t handle. This rapid response group is called the Department of Military Sciences or the DMS for short. It’s bad because his first mission is to help stop a group of terrorists from releasing a dreadful bio-weapon that can turn ordinary people into zombies. The fate of the world hangs in the balance…

CLASSIFICATION: More often than not I tend to disagree with a publisher’s description of a book, but in the case of “Patient Zero”, both
Gollancz and St. Martin’s Griffin were spot on, describing the novel as “a fast moving, hyper-violent techo-thriller with horror overtones”, while drawing comparisons to James Rollins’ Sigma Force adventure-thrillers, the action-packed 24, and the post-apocalyptic 28 Days Later. The only thing I would add is that the zombie/horror elements reminded me strongly of the Resident Evil videogame series.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 421 pages divided over four Parts, 125 chapters, and an Epilogue. Narration alternates between the first-person POV of the protagonist Joe Ledger and several third-person POVs including main villains Sebastian Gault and El Mujahid. “Patient Zero” is self-contained but is the first book of a new series that will have at least two sequels: “Dragon Factory” and “The King of Plagues”. As far as the free short story, “Countdown” is a prequel to “Patient Zero”, but most of it can be found in the actual novel, albeit slightly altered.

March 3, 2009 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of “Patient Zero” via
St. Martin’s Griffin. Cover designed by Jonathan Bennett. The UK edition (see below) will be published on April 16, 2009 by Gollancz.

ANALYSIS: As a huge fan of both James Rollins’ Sigma Force novels and zombie fiction, I had a strong feeling going in that I would enjoy reading Jonathan Maberry’sPatient Zero”, but even then I didn’t anticipate how awesome the book would be…

For one, the action depicted in “Patient Zero” kicks ass. Whether it’s fast & furious gunplay, brutal hand-to-hand combat, or zombies tearing a person to shreds, the action scenes are written with such energy and intensity that it feels like you’re watching it all happen live. The hand-to-hand combat in particular is just terrific:

“Make yourself comfortable. We’ve been in here for almost three hours trying to sort out which one of us should head this team.”

“Really,” I said and kicked him the balls.

He let out a thin whistling shriek of pain that I ignored as I grabbed the shoulder of his windbreaker and jerked him down hard and fast so that he collided with Apeman and they both went down.

I spun off that and stomped down on the Joker’s foot and then pivoted to bring the same foot up again, heel first into his nuts. He didn’t scream, but he hissed real loud; and I nailed Sergeant Rock with a palm-shot to the chest that sent him sprawling onto the food table, which collapsed under him.

That left Jolly Green Giant standing and he gaped at me in shock for maybe a half second before he started to swing; but that was a half second too long, and I darted forward and drove the extended secondary index-finger knuckle of my right hand into his left sinus, right next to his nose, giving it a fast counterclockwise twist on impact. He went back like he’d taken a .45 round in the face.

I pivoted again to see Apeman pushing his way out from under Scarface but he was only halfway to his feet and I swept his supporting leg out from under him and he fell hard on his tailbone, almost—but not quite—catching himself by planting his hand flat on the ground. I stamped on his outstretched fingers and then chop-kicked him in the chest before spinning off to face Sergeant Rock…


But “Patient Zero” isn’t just nonstop, balls to the walls, testosterone-fueled action and adventure. On the contrary, one of the book’s greatest strengths is its balance. So stabilizing the intense action and adventure is a really solid mix of characterization, humor, storytelling, and conceivability.

Of the characters, Joe Ledger is a very likeable leading man, not just because he’s a badass action hero and a “world-class smartass”—which is one of the reasons why his narrative voice is so fun to read—but also because he has a human side. He’s compassionate toward other people, loyal to his friends, and experiences regret for what he’s done. On top of that, he’s intelligent and possesses an interesting psyche which is dominated by three different personalities: the Modern Man, the Warrior, and the Cop. The other characters in the book—which includes the fanatical terrorist El Mujahid, the mad scientist Amirah, Sebastian Gault who wants to become the richest person in the world, Major Grace Courtland, the mysterious Mr. Church, etc.—are more stereotypical and not as three-dimensional, but still possess greater depth than most characters found in similar movies or videogames. Plus, it’s always a blast to read from a villain’s point of view :)

Story-wise, “Patient Zero” doesn’t exactly reinvent the wheel with the author utilizing a number of tried-and-true plot devices including the ultrasecret taskforce; a traitor within the DMS and U.S. government; backstabbing among the bad guys; a romance developing between Joe and one of the secondary characters; trying to thwart a weapon of mass destruction; and Joe facing off against the bad guy in a final showdown. But this never becomes an issue because the book is so well-written with superb execution, very comfortable prose, and electric pacing.

Lastly, what I loved about “Patient Zero” was its plausibility. For example, even though the book features flesh-eating zombies and futuristic technology like MindReader, most of the concepts in “Patient Zero” are based on actual science such as prion diseases and fatal familial insomnia. Factor in the realistic post-9/11 mindset, a convincing viewpoint of terrorists, and the seemingly accurate portrayal of counterterrorist agencies, and the scenario in “Patient Zero” suddenly seems very possible, and thus, very scary. Adding to the book’s conceivability are heroes who are fallible—they fall for traps, are constantly outsmarted by the enemy, can break down emotionally, and are not invincible—and examinations on moral issues and the psychological effects of killing a person, especially a zombie who was once an innocent child, mother, father, brother, sister or grandparent…

In the end, Jonathan Maberry’sPatient Zero” is the ultimate page-turner, a novel that hooks you with its opening sentences—“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.”—is thoroughly fun to read, immensely entertaining, and is just impossible to put down. I loved every moment I spent with it and highly recommend this blockbuster-in-the-making to anyone looking for an awesome time…

13 comments:

Jonathan Maberry said...

Robert...so glad you enjoyed PATIENT ZERO. I had an illegal amount of fun researching and writing the book, and I'm delighted that so many people aroundd the world are hopping aboard for Joe Ledger's first wild ride.

Robert said...

You're more than welcome Jonathan :) Sounds like you had as much fun writing the book as I did reading it!

Nancy Keim Comley said...

I can't wait to read this book. I might be sitting in the middle of the biggest snow fall this year but I'm going out to get "Patient Zero" tomorrow even if I have to hitch up the sled dogs.

Anonymous said...

Just finished "Patient Zero", it's Maberry's best yet. I got hooked on his Pine Deep trilogy but this tops them all. Joe Leger is an awesome character. He is as human as the zombies are not!

Anonymous said...

What an awesome review for an incredible book - I can't wait to see what Joe Ledger is up to next.

-JB

Robert said...

Nancy, well I hope you get a chance to get a copy of the book despite the weather. It's definitely worth it!

Thanks for the comments Anonymous! I totally agree with your sentiments about the book :)

Rita-Mae Williamson said...

I did something I have never done in twenty yeas of reading thrillers. I read Jonathan Mayberry's Patient Zero TWICE. Yes. Cover to cover, twice.

I WANT MORE. I want more Maberry. want more Joe Ledger (he's the sexy hero). I want more of this series.

Donna Berkheiser said...

Reading PATIETN ZERO is like drinking five cups of espresso and then taking a roller coaster ride. Wild, fast, and fun. Whew!

Robert said...

Thanks for the comments Rita-Mae and Donna! I'm glad you enjoyed the book :D

Anonymous said...

I read it over the Columbus day weekend, I just couldnt put it down. An amazing book! Cant wait for more, Ive been researching for my next read since I finished it about three days ago and I dont know what to move onto next! As the sayin goes, Definately a hard act to follow.

Mason said...

Just started reading the Rot and Ruin series, im just before the half way point I think and already im totally engrossed by storyline and characters such as the Imura brothers and the mysterious Lost gir. Can see me buying the entire series. Thank you Jonathan.

Anonymous said...

Best. Book. Ever.

Anonymous said...

what is the theme?

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