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Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry

01/04/2009. Contributed by Gareth D Jones

Buy Patient Zero in the USA - or Buy Patient Zero in the UK

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pub: Gollancz. 421 page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 9.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-575-08692-0.

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The Department of Military Sciences is a new top-secret agency set up in the US to combat a new terrorist threat - an incurable pathogen that turns people into zombie-like Walkers that could wipe out the entire planet if released. Joe Ledger is a cop recruited to the agency, Sebastian Gault is the pharmaceutical mogul hoping to make a fortune from the cure, and El Mujahid is the terrorist trying to destroy them all.

The story unfolds mostly from the perspectives of these three characters and combine to create a book that gives me a big problem: I'm going to have to use a horrible made-up word. It's un-put-downable.

From the moment Joe Ledger s recruited at the beginning of the book the action is non-stop. The terrorist threat leaves no time for hesitation or compromise and we are swept from scene to scene maintaining the intensity of an entire series of '24'. Yet at the same time the tension is broken with regular light-hearted comments, as much for our own sanity as for the beleaguered members of the Department of Military Sciences. Jack Bauer from '24' gets a mention, as does 'Dr. Who' and a host of other names from popular culture.

'This would be Science Fiction if we hadn't seen it ourself,' says one of the characters at some point. There are elements of SF in there, but more of the 'techno-thriller' variety than anything else. This book is an action thriller and it certainly piles on the thrills.

Occasionally, the narrative looks like it's about to veer into the over-used territory of clichéd Islamic terrorists and gung-ho action figures, but it never does. The double layer of plotting behind the terrorist attacks makes it continually interesting and the occasional forays into sentimental American patriotism don't last too long. As usual the token English character, a female SAS Major, is given dialogue that is either too American or cheesily English, but again it's not a major problem.

I've read maybe half a dozen non-SF books in the past 20 years and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. My heart was in my mouth for quite a lot of this book and as a thriller it hit all the right spots. Thoroughly recommended.

Gareth D. Jones

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This book has 35 votes in the sci-fi charts

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