REVIEW SUMMARY: Employing frighteningly realistic conspiracy theory scenarios and some creative misdirection, Maberry has Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences team battling secret organizations and old enemies, protecting the world again.
BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Reeling from the tragedy at the end of Ledger #2 (small spoilers below), Joe is pulled back into the DMS after the Royal London Hospital is destroyed in a terrorist attack. The group The Seven Kings is responsible, and they hit with more attacks, paralleling the seven plagues of Egypt, and go after Ledger and the DMS.
PROS: Great conspiracy thinking with LARGE events; misdirection; interesting, complex criminals who don’t like each other; a great dog and destruction of one of Maberry’s favorite writing places!
CONS: One plot line that was beyond me to connect, perhaps a lead-in for Joe #4?
BOTTOM LINE: As good and maybe better than Patient Zero, the first Joe Ledger novel, The King of Plagues brings a more than possible terrorist conspiracy to scary life.
As a citizen of the world, I naively hope that there are not organizations like the Seven Kings in The King of Plagues, bent on chaos and terror with the money, power and intention to commit acts of mass murder. As a reader, I hope that Maberry keeps listening to the voices in his head, creating opponents worthy of Ledger. Ledger and the DMS have battled zombies created by germs, in turn created by a group reaching for global domination; and genetically engineered men and beasts, created by yet another megalomaniacal faction (that time father and kids).
How many super criminal organizations can there be?
At the end of The Dragon Factory, the second Joe Ledger novel, Ledger was broken, physically, mentally and emotionally, and quit the DMS.
At the end of Patient Zero, the first Joe Ledger novel, Sebastian Gault and his associate Toys just escaped the destruction of their germ factory / facility, with Toys saving Gault’s worthless life, in spite of Gault ignoring Toys’ advice, getting burned physically and romantically.
Ledger, Gault and Toys are back, along with the rest of the DMS, in this third installment (at least two more are planned) with Maberry creating larger catastrophes and Freemason-type secret organizations who run our world behind the curtain. Ledger loses a bit of the introspection that made him more human than machine in the first two novels, but Maberry goes for a more realistic set of foes for the DMS…and what Ledger loses in self-examination, the criminals more than make up for it.
The opening scene has Ledger in London, getting drafted back into the DMS by his boss Church to investigate the Tower-esque bombing of the Royal London Hospital. Maberry describes this event through Ledger’s eyes with language that makes me think Maberry was in New York at the time of the disaster. Lines like:
“9/11 might be over a decade ago, but even the average guy on the street knew about the dangers of breathing that dust. It was more than debris…the fire and the pressure from the collapsing buildings had vaporized people.”
The bombing, and the subsequent attempt to release Ebola, and an attack on a government facility are all the work of an organization called The Seven Kings. We later find out that the evil gang is all there: the Kings of Plagues, War, Famine, Fear, Gold, Lies and Thieves…everyone is here except the King of Beers (probably not evil enough to be included). The Kings are well aware of DMS (launching attacks on Ledger and the DMS) and DMS is aware of the Seven Kings, through an anonymous tipster who is somehow able to contact Church on his private line (I believe that is called a clue) with tips on the Kings activities.
Maberry has fun with this one, and it shows in the read. He absolutely destroys one if the sites where in real life he writes (and no doubt the descriptions of the victims match the folks Maberry sees there). And he presents us with a “think tank” made of thriller writers, designed to create the worst possible terrorist scenarios for the Government to think up reactions or prevention scenarios (and names names of his thriller writer buddies). It’s hard to call a novel this bloody “playful”, but Maberry pulls it off.
The characters are fun as well; the old characters are back, like Top, Bunny and Rudy, but new characters Santoro and Circe are colorful and complicated. Santoro is so complexly demented, he even freaks out fellow criminal Toys, no slouch in the depravity department himself. And Circe O’Tree is another beautiful tough lady, with a complicated past, to fill the shoes of Grace Courtland from the second book.
He also employs misdirection, which the King of Lies talks about as their foundation. They set up a rival organization called the Bonesmen, but when the read is over, you are not sure if the Bonesmen exist or were created by the Kings for their own purposes. A potential setup for the next story, but also raises the enjoyment of this one.
I didn’t follow the storyline of Nicodemus, and how or where he fit into the picture. Perhaps he is a bridge to the fourth Joe Ledger story (which is set up nicely at the end of this one) which looks to be titled The Others and reportedly involves some type of vampire. The first Ledger, Patient Zero, had zombies that weren’t really zombies, but Ledger and the uniqueness of the DMS were the stars of that novel. The second Ledger, The Dragon Factory, featured genetic monsters engineered by Nazis, a theme I personally have overloaded on through reading stacks of WWII non-fiction and fiction.
I’d like to see Maberry stay with the big ideas of this third novel, where there are secret organizations directing and manipulating the world in ruthless fashion, with only Joe and the DMS to thwart them.