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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Review: Patient Zero

Jonathan Maberry's first entry in the Joe Ledger series, Patient Zero, drops you into a world that's eerily similar to the present, where terrorism is a continuing threat and religious fundamentalist diehards are finding new and deadly ways to kill infidels. As Joe states in the opening line, "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 my skills."

When a well-funded jihadist group, led by the dangerous and mysterious El Mujahid and his wife Amirah, begin using a terrifying bio-weapon that turns its victims into mindless, contagious, and ravenous zombies, Joe is hastily recruited by the ultra-secret Department of Military Sciences to run Echo Team, a strike squad of hardened ex-soldiers, and combat the threat. What follows is the longest week in Joe's life as he deals with threat from the terrorists, their backers, a traitor on the squad, and his own personal demons.

Maberry's storytelling is impressive. The story is broken down into chunks, long when they need to be and short when they need to be, that moves the plot along briskly. Joe is a darkly charismatic and adept hero, equal parts Dirty Harry, Sam Spade, and Ethan Hunt. Intelligent and resourceful, brutal and reluctant. The parts of the story that are told through his viewpoint are fast and funny, and attempt with varying amounts of success to place the camera squarely behind our heads. It is novelized form of a first-person shooter. The parts that don't directly follow Joe are a bit hamstrung bythe fact that the other characters are caricatures of moustache-twirling evil. The smug British capitalist is typically slimy and the terrorist characters follow every statement with their version of an evil laugh (Allah akhbar). There's also a sex scene that, save for the tacked on purpose it serves, feels a bit out of place and unnecessary.

The triumph of Patient Zero is that the credibility of the threat is very palpable. Much of the science is real as are most of the diseases and pathology, which creates an entirely believable atmosphere of "this could happen." The action scenes are very well staged and the swerve thrown in at the final act is pretty cool. For all the issues I had with the book, I rather enjoyed it and recommend it pretty highly.

Rating: 7 of 10.

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