BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A new foe has resurrected old threats. With DMS already spread thin, can Joe Ledger and Echo Team end a wave of bio-terrorism that is sweeping the nation?
PROS: Best villain in the series to date, nice buildup, Joe Ledger’s trademark wit, phenomenal finale, big potential changes in store for the future.
CONS: Pacing issues due to interludes.
BOTTOM LINE: The series is still going strong and Code Zero is one of the best entries yet.
Another year, another Joe Ledger Novel — the sixth in the series to be precise. It’s a series I’ve been following since the beginning, a series that has had its fair share of high and low points. Joe Ledger’s dry wit and Jonathan Maberry’s twisted imagination keep me coming back repeatedly. The Joe Ledger novels are like 24 meets X-Files; it’s like Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series rooted in science rather than mysticism. The bio-terror threats that Captain Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences face are chilling and creative. Code Zero is, in many ways, a culmination of the past five novels as well as a more direct sequel to Patient Zero (book one). Code Zero is also among the better novels in the series, ranking just below Assassin’s Code (my favorite) and Extinction Machine.
Code Zero is a slow-burner in comparison to the rest of the series, though I consider this a good thing. Maberry takes his time setting up the dominoes before he goes about blowing them to splinters. As Joe states early on in the novel, “This one started weird and stayed weird, and for most of it felt like we were swinging punches at shadows.” Thus far in the series, Joe Ledger and Echo Team have tackled zombies, genetically altered super soldiers, vampires, and (maybe) alien technology. Code Zero sees our heroes fighting threats from the nightmares of their past, with an emphasis on the Seif al Din pathogen that kills and then reanimates, turning its victims into zombies.
A lot of Joe Ledger fans will consider this reason to celebrate — I tend to find zombies boring and groan-inducing and yet I can admit that Maberry has a real knack for writing them. Still, I was a little disappointed that Seif al Din would be making a return. I’m more interested in Maberry trying new things, after all this is the man that made vampires terrifying again in Assassin’s Code. The combined threat keeps things spicy however, and Code Zero’s big baddie is the best villain Joe has faced yet.
The following may be considered a minor spoiler. I figured out the identity of Mother Night rather early on in the novel, but if you’d prefer not to chance anything go ahead and skip the next paragraph (in italics).
Maberry develops Mother Night, the “anarchist” mastermind, over the course of the novel. Readers get to follow Mother on her descent into evil. Often the baddies of the Joe Ledger novels come across as cartoony Bond villains. Mother, though over-the-top in true Maberry fashion, is fully developed. There are true motivations behind her actions and her story is, if not tragic, then at least unfortunate. She is the most devious enemy the DMS has ever faced and it makes for compelling reading. The development is expressed via interludes that progress the story but break up the action and pacing due to the frequency. It’s a double-edge sword.
Okay, it’s safe to read again! Everyone’s favorite characters return, from Captain Joe Ledger (gold medalist of the Sarcasm Olympics) to his dog Ghost. Church, Aunt Sallie, Top Sims, Bunny, Doctor Rudy Sanchez, Doctor Hu, Bug, Violin, and Junie all make appearances. Being spread thin, DMS recruits some new shooters though I wouldn’t bother getting attached to any of them — by now any operators that aren’t Ledger, Top, or Bunny can probably be considered red shirts). Ghost is as cute as ever and Rudy isn’t nearly as annoying as I’ve come to expect (dios mio!) and I’ve even come around to liking Junie. I feel as though I judged her relationship with Joe unfairly in my review of Extinction Machine, book five. The fit between Joe and Junie is actually quite convincing and adds an unexpected layer of complication to affairs. Junie is a much-needed calm-in-the-storm for Joe, a man whose fractured psyche is barely held together, a man who is growing more weary and cynical with each case.
Mother Night’s reign of terror is…well, terrifying. The chaos that she and her minions unleash on America during Labor Day weekend is extensive. There were moments while reading Code Zero when I was forced to put down the book and fight cold chills. This is bio-terrorism at its worst and the body count reflects it. The action of Code Zero is somewhat understated, reflecting the slow-burner nature of the book, but it’s as grisly and high-octane as ever. Given the nature of the threats that Joe Ledger faces and his training you would suspect that he’d carry along something more potent than a puny little 9mm, but aside from that the rest of the action reads right. The finale is spectacular! It’s the sort of finale that begs to be played out on the big screen. The rest of the book’s end, the epilogue, left a bit to be desired. After 400+ pages of buildup and an action sequence to put the rest of the series to shame, the book ends too quickly.
Minor complaints aside, Code Zero is a great addition to the Joe Ledger novels. Joe Ledger fans are bound to love it, it’s a game changer. I fully expect to see some big changes by the time Predator One, book seven, comes out next year. And with a title like Predator One, how can it not be awesome?