Maberry, Jonathan. Patient zero. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2009. 421pp.
If the vampire novel is slipping down into the realm of the bodice ripper, it seems to me that zombies are the new vampire – able to actually embody horror without romance or any kind of soft and fuzzy feelings. Zombies mostly evoke fear and terror and a almost fatalistic wonder at the randomness of the universe.
In the hands of a great up-and-coming horror novelist, zombies can be gold. Jonathan Maberry is just such a writer, the award-winning author of the Ghost Road Blues series of horror novels. Patient Zero is another real winner from Maberry, if anything even better than his earlier trilogy. It's a combination zombie horror and medical thriller – a very good example of the kind of hybrid science fiction horror genre that's bound to become more and more popular.
Basically, the idea is that a Baltimore cop is recruited by a secretive government agency to help stop what seems to be a Middle Eastern terrorist plot to flood the world with a plague of zombies that spread quite easily via victims being bitten. The action is non-stop, the main character, Jack Ledger, is quite well drawn, the plot points are a bit of a stretch but well within thriller limits.
One of the most interesting aspects is that Ledger's best friend, who also gets drawn into the fight, is a therapist who helps cops deal with the stress of their jobs, especially when they are forced to shoot someone. Throughout the novel, he's talking both Ledger and us through what it means to be a human being caught up in a whirlwind of violence and death, helping his friend and the other agents cope with what they're going thought at that basic human level. Very interesting and very well done.
Overall, an exciting and surprisingly thoughtful read. Highest marks in the summer reading sweepstakes. I anxiously await sequels.
(Yeah, I know. Zombies and humour. Zombies are strangely funny, it seems. Argh.)