Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

I recently reviewed the fourth book in Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series. I thought I’d run my reviews of the first three books first so you have some sense of them beforehand.

Patient Zero (Joe Ledger, #1)Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My review for SFFaudio.

Jonathan Maberry caught my attention immediately with Patient Zero’s dedication:

This book is dedicated to the often unsung and overlooked heroes who work in covert operations and the intelligence communities.

And then he caught it again with the quote with which the book begins.

A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

I know a particular person who is one of those unsung heroes and so my natural inclination is to look approvingly upon the author’s sentiments.

However, I wasn’t here for a covert intelligence story or a spy story but for zombies. Also, because I’d heard the Writing Excuses podcasters praising the Joe Ledger series.

Then I heard the first two sentences of the book itself.

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.

Aha. The hat trick … which also informed me that I actually was here for a covert intelligence story, for a spy story, and, this should go without saying by now, for zombies.

Here’s a quick story synopsis.

Joe Ledger is a hardened Baltimore cop with serious skills in physical combat. After a surprise raid on suspected drug traffickers, he is strong-armed into joining the DMS, a rapid response task-force that handles problems too big for Homeland Security. The latest problem is a terrorist’s bio-weapon which, for all practical purposes, turns the infected into zombies. While Joe and his team try to track and stop the threat, we also see the bad guys: a tangled knot of corporate interests and Muslim fanatics gearing up for the ultimate assault on American soil.

In a way this is a meta thriller. It is obvious that there are the standard types which are being used. The Warrior. The Super Villain. The Mad Scientist. The Best Friend who is also The Conscience. Characters will even call people by these labels. This is reinforced by such tidbits as when a scientist excitedly asks Joe if he’s read Doctor Spectrum comics where Joseph Ledger is a character. However, Maberry keeps it from being cliched. Perhaps it is the zombies but I felt it was also due to Joe Ledger’s character and the blistering pace of the book. Short, fast chapters keep the action moving and the reader on the edge of their seat.

As with many thrillers, the story is relatively formulaic. The good guys are very good. The bad guys are very bad. Joe bleeds red, white, and blue and there is no way he is going to let terrorists harm Americans. There is a bit of humor, a touch of romance, and a ton of suspense. And zombies. Lots and lots of zombies coming in wave after wave.

It’s a formula that works. We need heroes and villains in our stories. Sometimes it is easy to see who they are. Patient Zero works because Maberry reminds us of how much entertainment there is to be had in the telling of such a tale.

My one problem with the book was that there were a couple of extended zombie attack sequences where Joe and the team just had to keep fighting and fighting … and fighting. We’d have gotten the same effect by cutting out just a bit of the fighting, particularly in the crab plant. They didn’t really have to be down to the point of ripping legs off of tables for weapons in order for me to understand just how desperate the situation was. However, this is a small quibble.

Much of the delight in this audiobook comes from Ray Porter’s narration. He reads Joe Ledger’s lines as if he were Ledger himself, reacting perfectly with a naturalness that made me feel as if I were hearing Joe’s actual thoughts. I particularly enjoyed the moments when he would hesitate or pause to emphasize points because that carried me into Joe’s emotions much more than if I had been reading.

The only problem with the narration was that Porter was a little too thorough. There is one character whose identity we don’t know until the end of the book but who we hear speaking with his employer. As I listened, I continually wondered if Porter had randomly chosen the accent with which this character spoke. I found myself listening to other characters in the book, wondering if we’d met this character yet and if he had that accent. It didn’t give it away much before the book itself did but it turns out that the narrator was being true to the character and that is something that I don’t think would have come across in the actual book. This isn’t a big deal, but it was an interesting problem.

Overall, you have to like this sort of thriller to enjoy this book. But if that’s the sort of thing you like, as I obviously do, then you’re going to really enjoy meeting Joe Ledger. And wave after wave of zombies.

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6 Responses to Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

  1. I often skim tense parts of books but your review entices me to read every last word

  2. Don Mulcare says:

    Thanks again Julie,

    You are tireless.

    Zombies seem to have replaced werewolves and vampires as the subject matter of the year. They fit well in shoot-em-up video games and TV series. Forgive me for saying this, but society seems to “howl” for darkly “spiritual” aka demonic fantasy. Do you think that the more angelic side of literature has a chance in today’s world? Clearly there is a void to be filled.

    God bless,


    • Julie Davis says:

      What examples are you thinking of when you mention “angelic literature?” I’m not sure I can think of any that strictly fit that definition, although I did think of Jane Eyre which has a protagonist with her eye on getting to heaven. But she does go through a fair amount of darkness.

      When I think of good books, meaning great to read, they all have a large amount of conflict. No zombies probably, but there are monsters of sorts in all of them.

      Give me some names … let’s talk literature on the “angelic side.” :-)

      • Don Mulcare says:

        Hi Julie,

        Sorry for the delay in my response. My two previous attempts to reach you were interrupted.

        In the original comment, I suggested that the present or unfolding “market,” not the literature of the past, entertains an interest in darkness (zombies and the like), more than just the required nasty human villain. That interest may reflect a distorted attempt to fill a genuine spiritual void in the population.

        For instance, I heard a promotion for a zombie movie or TV show that gave itself spiritual credentials by misquoting the gospels: “Christ said that the dead would rise from the grave, no one expected the risen to take the form of zombies.”
        The idea of a Zombie Apocalypse might be God’s wrath let loose on humanity, except for those who can shoot their way out of it.

        If the fascination with zombies represent a darkly twisted craving for some form of spiritual life, then maybe a more benign story line with the souls of the blessed (saints) and maybe angels interacting with humans might also satisfy the same yearning. Needless to say, there would be far less shooting and explosions, so the whole thing would fall flat from the start.

        Call it a hypothesis that has not passed the appropriate experimental tests.

        Thank you for your kindness,


    • Johnny says:

      Could you be referring to “Fairy stories”, Don? I’m not so certain those were ever popular with the mainstream. Not say they can’t be great, however. George MacDonald is one of my favorite fantasy writers.

  3. Julie Davis says:

    Hi Don … I tend to think of the zombie stories more as the Grimm’s fairy tales. They were very, very dark and didn’t represent the dark side of spirituality so much as all the terrible uncertainties in the world. I’d say that zombies (and vampires, etc.) stem from a combination of reacting to uncertainties (including scientific genetic meddling) and to the desire to look at old ideas in a new way. You are right that some like to link them to spiritual things, but I think that most are not really aware of that.

    I would most definitely recommend The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell. That book has zombies but they are in many ways like the wolves in the forest … threatening but not the main point of the story. I see I haven’t posted that review here. I’ll do so when the Jonathan Maberry reviews are done. :-)