Code Zero (Joe Ledger #6) by Jonathan Maberry [Narrated by Ray Porter]

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Code Zero: A Joe Ledger Novel
By Jonathan Maberry

Publisher: Macmillan Audio | Release Date: April 25, 2014 | Runtime: 16 hours and 3 minutes

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Code Zero, the sixth installment of Jonathan Maberry’s long-running, kinetic cross-genre action series, is a bit of a stroll down memory lane as Joe Ledger’s past with the Department of Military Science comes back to haunt him. Although it’s billed as a direct sequel to Patient Zero, the very first Joe Ledger book, it’s more of a culmination of all five preceding novels as certain elements from each of those works return in some capacity here. Fans expecting a return to the high-octane thrill of combat specialists squaring off against hordes of the undead from Patient Zero will have to be patient for the zombie mayhem to kick into gear, though, as the threat Ledger and the DMS face here is so much bigger than that singular threat from yesteryear.

Mother Night is at the head of an anarchist revolution hellbent on destroying America and rebuilding it under a new doctrine. To satisfy her aims, she’s launched a multi-pronged and multi-faceted war across the country, unleashing a spate of threats the DMS had believed was already conquered. As they respond to one encounter after another, it becomes apparent that the various bio-engineered plagues and genetically modified supersoldiers they’d defeated were not as contained as they’d once thought. Somehow, the research from various organizations they’ve warred against, like The Dragon Factory and the Seven Kings, has been stolen and repurposed. As they hunt for Mother Night, and answers as to who she is and how she has these weapons, Ledger and his squadron, Echo Team, find themselves squaring off against berserkers, suiting up against supremely deadly strains of modified Ebola, and reliving their worst nightmare as the Seif al Din pathogen is released, turning Americans into bloodthirsty hordes of walkers.

Code Zero is an absolute rush, and possibly one of the best Joe Ledger books since this series’ debut. Maberry keeps the pedal pressed firmly down to the metal, hard enough to let sparks fly. And believe me, there are a lot of sparks in this one. Maberry has always been really good at combining military, sci-fi, and horror genres under one roof in these books, creating a cogent work from these disparate elements. These genre pieces fit together seamlessly, and in Code Zero you get a thriller that’s a bit like 24 meets The Walking Dead, with some dashes of The X-Files for good measure.

If you’ve kept up with this series, then you know the formula by now. Maberry doesn’t mess with his usual recipe for these books — Ledger is still a tough, wise-ass killer, and yes, we do have to sit through another spiel about Joe’s three competing psyches (the Cop, the Warrior, and the Civilized Man) just in case this is your first ride along. The villain and her motivations are revealed over the course of multiple interludes that fall between a number of short chapters that keep the story moving along at a dizzying pace and end on cliffhangers that keep the pages flying. The bad guys are totally irredeemable, and the justice they’re dealt is mostly satisfying. I would have liked one particularly sleazy politician operating against the DMS to have gotten his just desserts in a more crowd-pleasing manner, but it doesn’t do much to detract from the overall goodness of this installment.

As for the Seif al Din and its resultant zombies… Patient Zero wasted absolutely no time getting readers into the thick of things and even created some absolutely harrowing, gut-punch encounters. Readers expecting Code Zero to follow suit might be a bit disappointed. It takes a while before the DMS confronts their first horde, but the grade finale is supremely entertaining, particularly when Ledger discovers one last infected surprise courtesy of Mother Night.

On the narration front, Ray Porter — as always — delivers a thousand percent in his reading. Porter is Joe Ledger, and the voice of this series. He’s pitch perfect the whole way through, and I can’t ever imagine a DMS book without his voice supporting it. He’s one of the few narrators out there that I always find myself turning toward the audiobook edition instead of the print work simply because of his involvement. Even in the short stories Maberry’s written about Joe Ledger, such as for the anthology Hell Hole, it’s Porter’s voices that I hear when reading. He brings these characters to life, giving each individual their own authentic, distinguishable voice. As usual, the production and narration are positively flawless.

Six books in, and the Joe Ledger books still haven’t gotten stale for me. That’s a pretty big win as I’m the type of reader who, pretty easily, suffers from series fatigue. I get bored reading the same characters book after book after book (sorry, Detective Bosch, Jack Reacher, Agent Pendergast), but somehow Maberry keeps finding these particular sweet spots for me that keep me interested. Maybe it’s the concept, or the ways he taps into my sense of patriotism without the blatant jingoism certain other American military-fiction writers seem to revel in, or maybe it’s just because Joe Ledger is an awesome hero with a wicked sense of humor and plenty of grouchy snark. Whatever it is, I’m ready to roll out with the DMS crew again.