Todd Harra has written a compelling techno-thriller with an optimum blend of mystery, terrorism, bureaucracy, interesting characters and science (mostly pathology & anatomy, but who knew odors have mass?) Also, given Harra’s background as a fourth generation funeral director, he provides enough dead-body stuff enough to satisfy curiosity & ease anxiety without overly dwelling on the mortician’s arts. The tone of such passages, like the comforting demeanor of those whose jobs are to deliver a modicum of calm to the grief-stricken, is informative but soothing.
The plot involves the mysterious appearance of the shigella bacterium (or is it a virus?) and a spate of bodies the custody and usual processing of which are mysteriously co-opted by government spooks.
Who are their agencies? Why are they doing this? And what in the hell is causing the shigella epidemic? Those and other questions fall into the wheelhouse of Tripp “Clip” Clipper, ex-Ranger combat medic and current funeral director, and whose particular combination of skills and temperament uniquely qualify him to delve into the mystery. He is also lover to Maggie, a pathologist at the Medical University of South Carolina. She lives in the apartment above Clip’s family funeral home.
As investigation proceeds and ever-increasing danger shadows Clip and those close to him, the stakes go up, culminating in Clip being shanghaied into a casket meant for a dead shigella victim & dumped into the shark-infested drink off the coast of South Carolina. (I won’t mention what happens to Maggie.) The scene is as tense as Lawrence Olivier’s Dr. Szell asking Dustin Hoffman’s Thomas Levy, “Is is safe?” However, a door opens to Tripp’s survival, only to expose him to yet more risk as he continues trying to uncover the cause of the outbreak poisoning Charleston and possibly more of the U.S.
The book’s characters are varied and blessedly human—vs. boring superheroes—yet likable. As thrillers go, Patient Zero is a four-star endeavor, and this reviewer expects readers will look forward to Clip’s release—or escape—from Witness Protection. Trouble always attracts worthy adversaries and readers will find Clip up to the job.
We hope there is a sequel.