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Wednesday, April 29, 2009
How to classify Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry?
So last night while my husband and I were making dinner we were discussing how to classify the new "supernatural thriller," by Jonathan Maberry, Patient Zero. Here is the plot: Joe Ledger, a cop, kills a terrorist in a bust at a warehouse. Ledger is set to join the FBI in a few days, but after the bust, he is brought into a new super-secret government agency, the Department of Military Science (DMS) where he is confronted with the same terrorist he just killed, except now he is a zombie. It turns out, some Arab scientists (with the help of a very rich, and very evil, American) have created a disease that turns people into zombies. Joe and his team must fight to save the world from these zombies.
OK, so first thing I am thinking is horror or biomedical/terrorism thriller? It has the scientific explanation which takes away the supernatural elements necessary to be true horror, but this book is fear inducing. It provokes a sense of terror in the reader which does not go away when you close the book. Let's put it this way, I am also listening to Brad Meltzer's Book of Fate right now, which is a political thriller, and Maberry's story feels more real to me. Melter's thriller is solid, but Maberry's is terrifyingly realistic.
But Patient Zero also has the hallmarks of a traditional thriller or suspense book: the time and date stamping, the details of law enforcement, the terrorism angle, and the extremely fast pacing.
Back to the discussion with my husband. He pointed out that the movie 28 Days Later (and its sequel, 28 Weeks Later, which, by the way, is scarier) has a similar plot--virus which turns people into zombies--and that movie is definitely horror, not thriller. He is right, and the characters in Maberry's book agree. Joe Ledger mentions it is as if someone watched 28 Days Later and then set out to do it. (Did I also mention that our kids were watching an old Muppet Show with Vincent Price while we were having this discussion? We are a bit odd, I know. But at least we are all okay with the horror thing.)
I have not finished the book yet. I will later today. I think I am leaning towards classifying this as horror. Zombie books generally have more of a scientific bent and yet, are mostly considered horror. Also, Maberry has written many award-winning horror books (both fiction and nonfiction). He is very good at the key horror author trait of inducing fear in the reader. On the other side of the argument, it also reads very much like a James Rollins adventure-thriller, and I never think of Rollins' novels as horror.
All of this is making me think about the emergence of many books like Patient Zero which are becoming harder to classify as supernatural elements creep into all genres. In this case I am thinking of calling books like Patient Zero investigative horror in my new book. I don't like using "supernatural thriller," the term used to market this book, because it downplays the horror elements as being noted merely by the presence of the supernatural. This is too simplistic, and it belittles the genre of horror itself. A horror book can be good and appealing to non-horror readers without the word horror being forcibly removed from its description. The key to the appeal of Patient Zero is the emotions the book draws out of the reader, not the pacing (which is pretty fast) or the law enforcement details (which are both key marks of a thriller.)
In a few days when I write about what I read this month, I will make a final determination. In the meantime if you want to read a realistic, terrorism thriller, with zombies, that will keep you looking over your shoulder for the next week, try Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry.
I am a Librarian [MLIS] in Illinois specializing in serving leisure readers ages 13 and up. I train library staff all over the world on how to match books with readers through their local public library. I am the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, 2d edition (ALA Editions, 2012). I am under contract to write content for EBSCO's NoveList database, reviews for Booklist, am a member of the Adult Reading Round Table Steering Committee, a 5 term Trustee for my local library, and am a proud member of The Horror Writers' Association. Check out the side bar for links to the groups and organizations with which I am affiliated.