A Reaction to Patient Zero by a Master of the Genre

NOTE: This originally posted in the hallowed halls of the Jay Wilburn sanctum sanctorum.

by Dane Hatchell

I became caught up in the zombie craze several years ago reading anthologies. (Side note, many of the unknown authors back then went on to be popular novelist today). Short stories are a great way to sample tales of the undead. Time is always a precious commodity, and a reader only has to make a minimum investment. The author is allowed to create a world without the expectation of an intricate backstory, take the reader on a ride, and deliver the punchline usually within the timespan of a thirty-minute lunch break.


My first short story, which involved zombies, came in at 6,000 words long. For some anthologies, a story that length was considered right at or just beyond the acceptable limit. Granted, 3K to 4K length stories proved to be more popular for that time. The problem I usually have in writing is that I fret reaching the word length minimum in the beginning. But in the end, because one thing leads to another, the short story sometimes turns into a novelette! Still, even though I had written many stories 10K in length, I went for a couple of years without any hopes of ever writing a novel. I just couldn’t flesh the plot out make it to the 40K word mark.

So, at the recommendation of a friend, I decided to pick up Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry. I wanted to see how a well establish author carried a novel length zombie story.

First of all, Patient Zero is not a zombie survival novel. It didn’t take me long before I discovered that, but to be honest, it did take me down a road I needed to go. I realized that I had created my own little zombie paradigm, and now new roads opened for my imagination to run. (Side note, the new way of thinking inspired my first novel, Resurrection X).

The star of Patient Zero is Joe Ledger. At first I thought he might turn out to be a cliché character and would soon lose interest. Nah, I warmed up to Joe quickly and became a fan. Ledger is a Detective in Baltimore, but is covertly recruited by the Department of Military Sciences, a secret anti-terrorist organization. Seems that there’s a terrorist conspiracy threatening to release a bio-weapon that will turn people into zombies.


Another thing Maberry does well is making the high-tech gadgets of the DMS believable. Don’t you hate it when you have to suspend reality to the perspective of a five-year-old in order to move on in the story? Yes, I am one of those nerds where chemistry and physics in stories should not be stretched beyond the limits of plausibility (the dead coming back to life doesn’t count. Don’t judge me). Maberry also puts us real time in espionage situations and the finer points of forensic science. I can tell when an author respects the reader enough to assume that they are intelligent, a key, in my opinion, of what makes a great author.

Getting back to the story, Ledger is a man who recognizes his inner warrior could prove to be his demise. He’s cocky, sarcastic, and just a bag full of fun. Once with the DMS, the success of the operation depends on how well he can blend with the team. Ledger is his own man with his own ideas, but he learns he has to give as well as take for the mission to become successful.

Discovering the mastermind of the zombie apocalypse plot isn’t easy. There’s a spy in the DMS and everyone is a suspect. Will Leger and his team solve the mystery in time?

Okay, read the book. The fun is in the journey, not the destination.

Zombies? Were there zombies in this book? You bet. It’s not all zombie all the time. Patient Zero isn’t that kind of novel. But man, let me tell you. Maberry knows zombies. And when the dead reanimate to life, the air around you feels wet and greasy. Your nostrils flare at the stench as you grip the sheets of your bed with the hand not holding the book. They’re coming to get you, Barbra. Yep, you get that scared feeling you love so well. That unique feeling you can only get from reading about zombies. That’s why we write and read about zombies. It’s a feeling that never gets old, and a new adventure is available for you to explore at your local bookstore or a download away.