You may have noticed I've been reading a few zombie novels recently: and for a non-horror reader like me, that's a lot! Even among these, however, V M Zito's The Return Man stands out. It's essentially the story of Henry Marco, the titular Return Man, who has stayed in the Evacuated States: the 'Resurrection'-infected half of the USA, putting clients' resurrected loved ones to rest - killing them. He's also been seeking his own resurrected wife's body. But this time, the job is different: the radical government of the new 'Safe States' has hired Henry to put the corpse of an old acquaintance, Roger Ballard, to rest. But what possible interest could they have?
Of course, there's more at stake. With Chinese secret agents, the local equivalent of the Mob, and a whole lot of zombies - and the possibility of a new discovery... - playing into the mix, it's not as simple as it sounds. This is very action-packed, a kind of zombie thriller if you like, and Zito is very talented at writing his action scenes. which is good, because there's a lot of them! There's a number of incredible 'wow' moments as well, and Marco - for all his medical expertise - is no passive protagonist.
What about character, then? Henry Marco is a wonderful protagonist - inventive enough to be fun to read, and at the same time sufficiently complex to seem real. He undergoes development, of course, but is still convincing flawed; and that's a good thing. with a zombie epidemic on the loose, the last thing we want are boring characters to fight their way through. Near the beginning, Kheng Wu does suffer from a little overexaggeration of certain traits, but his development - predictable as it in in places, because my special reviewer plot senses are honed - definitely works.
Let me give you a caveat to your reading, though. From my first description, you might think this is a typical zombie/epidemic novel: 'Oh, they travel through a post-apocalyptic wasteland filled with zombies'. This simply isn't true. While the land is mostly deserted, the zombies themselves have a twist, and there's a lot more focus on the competition and struggle - the thriller aspect is likely larger than the 'zombie plague'.This isn't just action, though. There are some genuinely emotional moments with Marco, not your typical hardbitten post-apocalyptic hero. We go further into his past, and the twists this leaves for the present are shocking. Though obviously, I won't be nasty and spoil them!
If you prefer more thoughtful, reflective journeys, this isn't for you. Otherwise, I can't think of any problems: an inventive protagonist, a talent for crazy high-octane action, and a lot of zombies (with twists!) combine to make this a highlight of the subgenre. Though relatively weighty at over 400-odd pages, they really do fly by. To the non-horror reader or the zombie-flesh conoisseur (hah!), I really can't recommend this enough.
Read this book, or plan to? Comment and tell me below!