When I was recently lavishing praise on Gorlan Parlov’s art in Marvel Universe Vs Punisher, I didn’t talk too much about the writing, which is unusual for me. When looking for some information about Maberry, I discovered his website and that he is an award-winning novelist: in addition to the Pine Deep Trilogy and the Benny Imura series, he has written five books in the Joe Ledger series, the first book of which is Patient Zero from 2009. So, when I saw it in my local library, I judged it a sign that I should read it.
Patient Zero introduces us to Joe Ledger (also the name of Doctor Spectrum from Squadron Supreme – this geek reference is actually mentioned in the book, and there are several other geeky references, particularly to Marvel books, which might have been just an inside joke but might have been a calling card to Marvel, for whom he now writes comic books); Ledger is a Baltimore detective and former army man who is assigned to a Homeland Security counterterrorism taskforce. On an assignment to raid a house with known terrorists, he shoots a strange-looking man who has tried to bite him; several days later, he is driven to a location where he is put in the room with the same man he shot, who seems to be alive as well as very strong, immune to pain and with a taste for human flesh. This is his introduction to the DMS (the Department of Military Science) and its head, Mr Church, and the fight against terrorists who have weaponised zombies.
As a fan of genre mixing, I like the idea of zombies being used as terror weapons and the concept of a government branch to deal with such problems. Maberry does a good job of setting up the concept of his ‘techno-thriller’ – it’s obviously not real but it is based in real science – and a world where a zombie terror attack is believable. He has created an interesting character in Ledger, a man who has in him the natural instincts of a warrior but with the capacity of a detective from his years on the force. Maberry almost trips over into the territory of describing Ledger as the greatest character, the best of the best, something that really annoys me in bad thrillers, but he always manages to pull back and humanise Ledger with his humour.
The book really works as a pacey thriller – Maberry also wrote martial arts books in his early career and he is an 8th degree black belt in jujitsu, which means that he provides authenticity in the brutal fight scenes, and he creates great tension, meaning that there were sections of the book where I was barely keeping up with my reading speed to discover what happens next. He has a strange stylistic choice for separating his chapters, with a change in scene from heroes to villains (or even heroes to heroes) causing a new chapter, meaning that there are over a hundred chapters (each with a character/location/timestamp), some less than a page in length, but it’s quick to adapt. I really enjoyed the book, which portrayed fantastical elements within a believable structure, and it made me want to read the further adventures of Joe Ledger.