(Cover picture courtesy of Staffer’s Book Review.)
The outbreak tore the U. S. in two. The east remains a safe haven. The west has become a ravaged wilderness. They call it the evacuated states.
It is here that Henry Marco makes his living. Hired by grieving relatives, he tracks down the dead and delivers peace.
Now Homeland Security wants Marco for a mission unlike any other. He must return to California, where the apocalypse began. Where a secret is hidden. And where his own tragic past waits to punish him again.
But in the wastelands of America, you never know who—or what—is watching you…
I honestly can’t decide which book I love the most: Feed by Mira Grant or The Return Man by V. M. Zito. And for those of you who know how much I loved Feed, you’ll know that that’s the best comparison I can give. This is the best book I’ve read in the past few months and is a fitting start to my reading challenge.
Marco is living in the Evacuated States, working as a return man, someone who kills the zombies of people who hire him. The logic behind this is that no one wants to know their loved one is shambling around somewhere, slowly rotting and possibly even suffering. However, when the Department of Homeland Security ‘hires’ (coerces) him into putting down one particular man he knew a while ago, before the Resurrection. His connection to the man, Roger Ballard, is slowly revealed through flashbacks that, surprisingly, don’t halt the action. V. M. Zito actually makes readers care about Marco, which is why the flashbacks are interesting and exciting.
However, Marco isn’t traveling alone to California to put down Roger. He’s travelling with Kheng Wu, my favourite character. I can’t say much about him because that would spoil things, but his back and forth dialogue with Marco is priceless. The Return Man rotates between Wu’s and Marco’s points of view, which is a good thing because Wu is hiding his motivations and true identity from Marco and despite himself, will come to respect the American.
The Return Man is a pretty serious story, which is why it’s a relief that Zito used humour occasionally to keep things from becoming too depressing. Mira Grant did the same thing with Feed (another reason why the comparison is so fitting). Both authors write things in graphic detail, but the subject of this detail is different.
Mira Grant focuses more on the Kellis-Amberlee virus that creates zombies whereas Zito focuses on the zombies themselves. In extremely graphic detail. I expected some details, but the warnings in the Amazon reviews did not do it justice. Although it takes a lot to gross me out, I suggest that the weak of stomach and regular readers do not eat while reading The Return Man. Especially not something chewy and meaty like jerky. You have been warned. So don’t be like a lot of people who gave the book a mediocre rating because of the gore. Since I’ve warned you, you have no excuse. Here’s a sample passage from page 153:
“A sludge of blood and offal carpeted the floor, inches thick. But solid. Hardened with time. The bodies had been dead for years, dried now and colourless. Spines torn apart, brains gnashed. These victims had been devoured too quickly, too completely to resurrect.”
The plot is fast-paced and unpredictable, what with zombies around every corner. Unlike a lot of books with huge plot twists, the ending of The Return Man actually makes sense, even if it is a bit sad. And what a plot twist in the Epilogue, just when you think it’s all over! I want the next book now, but unfortunately there is no word on when Zito plans to write the sequel. After all, his debut novel was just released in 2012.
I give this book 5/5 stars.