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This was a fun, fast read full of non-stop action that delivered exactly what it promised, no more and no less. A police detective is recruited by a secret government agency to stop an impending release of zombies by Islamic terrorists on an unsuspecting American public. The zombie scourge is caused by genetically-manipulated prions; these zombies are “fast movers,” more akin to those in 28 Days Later than the George Romero kind. The action is fast and furious, with vivid, well-described combat sequences throughout the book. It would probably make a fun summer action movie.

It’s not entirely clear how the protagonist, Joe Ledger, a detective who has never been in combat becomes such a killing machine. We are told many times that he is simply hero material, so we just have to accept that, I guess. He generally deals better with trauma than most of the Special Forces troops placed under his command (which is an odd arrangement, but again, we are asked to accept that). This need to suspend disbelief is common in both technothrillers and horror novels, so it’s not out of place, or any more egregious than in most novels of either genre.
There are a few silly bits in the book, however:
  • It’s typical of technothrillers, I suppose, but it’s darn silly to provide makes and models of every piece of equipment mentioned, including gym bags and watches. It could be a subtle gibe at the genre, I supposes, but there’s not enough evidence for that argument.
  • Everyone refers colloquially to the Department of Homeland Security as “Homeland.” That’s unrealistic. I worked for ten years in government service , including two there, and everyone, civilian, military, law enforcement, intelligence, refers to it as “DHS.” Likewise, Maberry has named the “black ops” organization the Department of Military Sciences (“Science” on the back cover), which is also silly. “Department” has a very specific meaning in government parlance, and it doesn’t work here. Also, “Homeland” is often used as a generic term for the U.S. intelligence community, as though DHS had the lead. That is almost never the case. DHS has a small intel shop of its own, but let’s be honest: it’s small, ineffectual, not particularly influential, and half the people working there are detailed from other agencies, either inside or outside the department. On matters like the ones depicted in the book, CIA and FBI would have the lead. I tended to mentally substitute “the IC” for “Homeland” because all those references really irked me.
  • “Hooah” is (sadly) not just a Ranger term, it’s widely used throughout the army (and I’ve heard it used by the other services s well).
  • Perhaps the silliest bit of all: one of the major characters is a British woman who is purportedly a major in Britain’s SAS who heads up one of DMS’ field teams. Now, to the best of my knowledge, women are not permitted in the SAS, so her background doesn’t make sense, and why would a British citizen be recruited into an elite, “black” combat unit? If she had been described as a liaison officer, I might accept it, but she’s not. There’s really no good reason for her to be a Brit in any case. It’s a bit of an oddity.

Little things like that. I hate to criticize a book for such niggling errors, but when a technothriller purports to depict the military and intelligence comunity realistically, I do think that the book must be evaluated on its own terms and flaws have to be pointed out.

The book ends with closure — the current threat has been decisively ended — but it is clearly set up as the first book of a series. I liked this one well enough that I plan to pick up the next. Yes, the action and twists and turns of the plot are eminently predictable, but that’s not always a bad thing. It’s a fun, light read, and I enjoyed it tremendously. If you like zombies and technothrillers, this is an obligatory purchase.

The publisher has also made available a short story that elaborates on the opening scene of the novel, which you can sign up to receive here.

Review copyright 2009 J. Andrew Byers
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