Review: The Return Man by V. M. Zito

TheReturnManPublished by: Orbit
ISBN: 0316218286
ISBN 13: 9780316218283
Published: April 2012
Pages: 448
Format reviewed: Paperback
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five

‘The Return Man’ by V. M. Zito is a dystopian adventure set in America in the year 2018. Zombies have taken claim to half of America, leaving the East safe and a stronghold. No one, not even though ‘un-infected’ are allowed in.

We meet Henry Marco, a man who has remained out in the Evacuated States instead of obeying the call to retreat to the Safe States the Government managed to defend. He’s out there with a few million zombies, making a living by communicating with his brother-in-law (in the Safe States) who takes requests from the grieving to track down their loved ones and serve their second death. So they can go to God, so they can be at peace – Marco doesn’t really care, as long as it pays and gives him something to take his mind off things.

It didn’t take Marco long to figure out that the zombies seem to suffer from something he calls Emotional Memory, which causes the zombies to return to a place that was significant to them while they were alive. It makes tracking them a hell of a lot easier. The zombies return to where they were married, a place they liked to holiday at, a church where they once prayed.

One day when Marco returns home after putting a Mr Roark to death, his webcam meeting with his brother includes a few guests – Homeland Security, to be precise – and they wish to hire his services. Within pages Marco is suddenly very popular indeed, all because of a man he once worked alongside – well, in the same building as. He is the next target, and Marco is sent to collect him along with aid from the Special Forces Military.

Yet they’re not the only ones after Marco’s ex-co-worker. In their efforts to perform a task that will save America and millions of lives, they have to risk theirs at almost every page. And all we can do is keep turning them.

The adventure in this book is astounding – I’m yet to read a zombie book with this many fight scenes, this much grit and gore and violence. The fight scenes are damn well done, told is such a gripping way you have to read faster and faster to find out what happens next.

Characters in dystopian can be tricky – in these sorts of ‘doom and gloom’ books it’s easy to disconnect from them, just wish they’d stop moaning for a while (even if they have every right to moan) and just get on with it.

YET – in ‘The Return Man’, you can emphasise with these characters. You feel proud at how they manage to keep going on, and you hope they get there and succeed. You may not think you would be friends with them if you met them in other circumstances, but in this book you want to keep reading about them, you learn their back-story and wish them the best for the future.

As for plot, it moves rapidly, feels entirely realistic and doesn’t drag in any part. It’s interesting, it has enough detail (both descriptive and scientific) for there to be enough information to explain, but not enough to drown the reader into boredom. My copy was 400 pages long and I didn’t feel it needed to be any shorter or longer than it is.

For zombie lovers – who can sometimes be picky by how zombies are depicted, here are the facts: these are slow moving zombies. A virus started it. It doesn’t affect animals, nor is it airborne, only bites or zombie slug dripping into a particularly nasty wound will turn you – I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure the dead in the ground remained there.

The longest pause I had in reading this book, was at chapter 4.1 ‘The Chinese Assassin’, when we’re introduced to Wu. Perhaps it was a chapter too late to show that there would be another POV making up this novel, but once I passed that, the rest of the book was devoured easily – like a man trapped before a dozen zombies, one might think.

This novel works well as a stand-alone, yet there is also room for more stories in this series – and I hope there are. This book has also been opted for a movie, and the author is interested in continuing it for television or graphic novels. He himself also seems quite prepared for the zombie outbreak – there was an interview in the back of my book where he says each evening his ten year-old daughter continues ‘digging a vast underground tunnel system that will eventually connect to a remote cabin in Vermont.’

V. M. Zito – I’ll certainly keep an eye out for any other work you produce.

This review was originally posted at SentientOnline on the 24th March 2012.

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