Earlier in the series Jonathan Maberry did an excellent job of coming up with unique threats for each book and finding a way to explain the existence of mythical creatures with "scientific" reasons. This allowed Joe Ledger to exist in a world grounded in modern science and yet battle all kinds of fictional creatures to keep us safe. However, the last book, Dogs of War, re-used a lot of threats from earlier in the series and when this book started with pretty much the exact scene from the start of a prior book I instantly knew I was in for more of the same.
Joe Ledger has been delivering action with an attitude for a while now and Dogs of War marks the 9th full novel in this action packed series. Joe Ledger and the DMS have faced quite a diverse set of adversaries along the way including the likes of zombies, aliens, vampires, super soldiers, and even some yet to be explained phenomena, yes I am looking at you Nicodemus. Of course if you are considering reading book 9 then you likely know all of that already and you also know that those encounters have taken their toll on the DMS with most surviving members of Echo team carrying around some serious emotional baggage. What manner of madness has Jonathan Maberry cooked up this time and will the DMS even be able to find their "A" game to deal with it?
This book grabs you right from the prologue as Joe Ledger asks a series of questions, including: Where were you when the lights went out? That's the question isn't it? Where you suddenly reminded that civilization and the comfort of infrastructure is just a garment that we wear? Did the sudden dark remind you that all of the things that we expect to be there for us are fleeting? You were absolutely sure someone was going to come and fix it right? Then there was a moment when you realized that the lights weren't coming back on, that maybe they wouldn't, that maybe they couldn't...
Some lose threads from book #3, The King of Plagues, get pulled on and things start to unravel for Joe Ledger and the DMS. It was uncovered back then that the Seven Kings had a list of all DMS members and their families, which was one of the main reasons that taking them out became so urgent. Once the Kings were all neutralized it seemed like the risk to the DMS families was eliminated but this turns out not to be true. With Joe and Rudy in attendance to watch the Orioles play the Phillies on opening day a terrorist attack targets not just the innocent baseball fans in attendance but the DMS agents in particular. The remnants of the Seven Kings are back and this time they are making it personal.
The term Code Zero was coined in the first Joe Ledger book, Patient Zero, to indicate a threat composed of the Seif-al-Din virus, which if released would inflict a zombie plague upon the world. This book is pretty much a sequel to that first book with a smattering of threats from the other books thrown in for good measure. Over the course of the first five books of the series Joe Ledger and the DMS have turned aside one threat after another (designer plagues, pathogens, engineered viruses, etc) and they have been locking away samples of these threats in their most secure facility. Very few people even know these things exist and all of these secrets are closely guarded for good reason. However, this time around the threat comes from within the DMS itself and that makes it hard for Joe Ledger and Echo team to get the job done as they are unaware they have been betrayed...
Counter-terrorism has been a consistent theme over the first four books of this series but that doesn't mean the stories have been repetitive. Joe Ledger and the DMS have actually faced quite a variety of adversaries so far, including zombies, super soldiers, and vampires. In each case there has been a scientific rationale to explain the existence of these seemingly supernatural creatures thus Joe Ledger has learned the hard way that he must keep an open mind if he wants to stay alive. However, all of those lessons don't seem to help much as he begins to uncover the facts in his latest case. It all starts with an impossibility - the President of the United States is abducted from the White House and not a single secret service agent saw anything. The only piece of evidence left behind is a crop circle on the White House lawn but that has to be a hoax. Right?
The story arc continues as some of the villains from The King of Plagues are behind a new threat to the world based in the Middle East. In Iran for a rescue mission, Echo team and Joe Ledger are tipped off that seven, or more, nukes are in the hands of an ancient order known as the Red Knights and are currently planted around the world. With an end game that intends to turn the world into a radioactive mess the DMS has very little time to come up to speed and formulate a response. With Ghost at his side, Joe Ledger starts to reveal just who these Red Knights are and he is having a hard time believing what he finds. After all, vampires aren't real, right?
The King of Plagues brings back some baddies from a prior book as the Department of Military Sciences discovers the existence of the Seven Kings. They are a powerful cabal bent on causing chaos throughout the world and profiting from it. The Seven Kings use their knowledge of the upcoming chaos they will cause to make money on various fronts as wars and catastrophes impact the world markets. Ruled over by "The Goddess" there are seven members of the cabal each with an advisor who acts as their "conscience." It turns out that they have a vacancy and are in need of a new King of Plagues.
The Dragon Factory picks up shortly after the events of Patient Zero as the Department of Military Sciences is faced with a new, completely different threat. This time around there is no zombie plague but rather a planned extinction wave targeted to wipe out a specific large portion of the human population. With the concepts of eugenics, genetic manipulation, and disease weaponization all taken to mad scientist levels the DMS must beat the clock to figure out who is behind the threat and neutralize it before the Extinction Clock counts down to zero. The story is a bit more complex than the first book and therefore starts slower but it eventually comes together and builds to a satisfying crescendo.
Some books take a while to find their legs and get going but this is not one of them. Right from the beginning I found my curiosity piqued and I was rooting for Joe Ledger even though I still didn't know too much about him. Jonathan Maberry does an excellent job of story telling in Patient Zero by the manner in which he reveals the bigger picture while at the same time providing increased insight into the man that is Joe Ledger. Patient Zero is a bit of a mash-up of 24 with a zombie apocalypse and things remain interesting from cover to cover.