Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry (St. Martins Press, March 25th, 2014)-If you’ve been wondering what Joe Ledger and his team have been up to, wonder no longer, because the new book in this fantastic series, CODE ZERO, is here! First of all, Joe is happier than he’s been in a long while. Junie Flynn’s cancer is being treated with experimental drugs, and he’s most definitely in love with her, so he now certainly has something good to go home to. Unfortunately, when he goes to question a man named Reggie Boyd, who works for DARPA and has been selling secrets, the kind of secrets that can get people killed. DARPA is supposed to keep us safe, and a software package called VaultBreaker is at the forefront of helping to stop terrorists from shutting us down. If it gets into the wrong hands, it could be devastating. It looks like Reggie was approached by a woman calling herself Mother Night, who leads a team of cyberhackers from China, North Korea, and Iran. Soon, acts of terrorism start popping up all over the country, and innocent people are getting hurt, and dying. At the core is Mother Night, and her army of disenfranchised youth that are eager to please her, and do anything for her. However, all this isn’t just to cause chaos and panic, although for Mother Night, it’s just icing, but she’s got something up her diabolical sleeve. A very dangerous auction is about to take place, and extremists in numerous countries are preparing their bids. Mother Night is also sending out millions of Trojan Horse viruses, infecting untold numbers of computers.
By this time, Joe has already been attacked by a mob of young men and women bent on murder, and as the acts of terrorism build, he’s tasked with screening new recruits, since the DMS is stretched pretty thin. Unfortunately, out of over 90 hopefuls, only a handful are measuring up to DMS standards, and they need all the help they can get. It doesn’t help that Church wants Joe to roll the new recruits out immediately, without Joe’s preferred three weeks of additional training. All in a day’s work for Joe, right? In addition, the Berserkers have made an appearance again, after Joe and his team thought they’d eradicated the last of them. And, after all, this is the direct sequel to Patient Zero, so of course the horrible plague that played a huge part in that book will certainly be back in play in Code Zero.
If you think Joe has dealt with some weird shit in the past, well, he has, but Code Zero hit 11 on the scare meter for me, because there are a lot of bioweapons being thrown around by Mother Night’s minions and this stuff, at least to me, is dizzyingly terrifying. In fact, it’s so terrifying, that Joe, who has always had to fight the three distinct personalities taking up space in his head, is finding that the Warrior wants desperately to find Mother Night and do horrible things to her for the terror and chaos that she’s wrought. So, I suppose an important question for Joe and crew is just who is Mother Night. The author lets you in on that early on, and it’s a fascinating look into the making of a villain, and Night’s complexity and motives make the progression into utter mayhem even more chilling.
Also, if you thought you’d seen the last of the repugnant Vice President Collins, think again. He’s still around and bent on taking over the Presidency. He’ll do anything to do that, and if it includes bringing down Church and the DMS, that’s just icing for him. He’s into this mess up to his neck, and if he can’t gain the Presidency, the power he can gain from working with Mother Night will do just fine.
Now, if I keep going, I’m going to let something slip and spoil the great, rollicking, violent fun that is CODE ZERO, but suffice it to say, fans of Joe Ledger won’t be disappointed, and also, new readers could jump into this one with no problem. Even though it’s a direct sequel to PATIENT ZERO and the 6th in a series, it’s rather nicely self-contained and Maberry gives enough background that you won’t feel lost. However, I firmly believe in starting with Book 1 if you haven’t read them, only so that events will resonate more strongly with the reader (plus, they’re all awesome.) I will say, though, that in terms of Joe’s mental state, CODE ZERO is the toughest on him yet. Fighting the Killer is becoming harder and harder, and faced with an enemy like Mother Night, who is as brilliant as she is cunning and ruthless, he’s very much starting to worry about the state of his psyche. CODE ZERO is written in the same nail biting countdown style as most of the series, and it races toward a spectacular stunner of an ending. It’s a game changer for Joe, and it’ll knock your socks off. If you think that CODE ZERO is just a kick ass adventure novel, it is, but it’s so much more. It’s about good vs. evil, a nation’s loss of innocence, and our ability to rise above what attempts to tear us down. Heavy stuff, indeed, but roll it up in Maberry’s signature brand of nerve-wracking prose and high-stakes situations, and you’ve got one excellent package. Don’t miss this one. Hell, if you haven’t discovered this series, what are you waiting for?
Kind thanks to St. Martins for providing a review copy