Sometimes refreshing and original ideas are lovely and at other times it’s nice to see tried and tested ideas put to use. As the adage goes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. That is certainly a saying that can be levelled at The Return Man. Don’t approach this novel thinking that you’re going to get a vastly different style of book in the zombie sub-genre, you’re not. What you will get, however, is a novel that treads familiar paths but manages to stand out from the undead crowd.
V.M. Zito, now there’s a name that says horror writer. It fits. Thankfully it’s apt as The Return Man is a cracking zombie novel. Now, if you’re one of those people who scrolls to the bottom and looks at the score, you’ll notice that I scored the book three stars. To be honest this is mainly due to it being quite samey. Much of the action is repetitive but I suppose that’s par for the course with these kinds of books.
Our hero, Marco, constantly finds himself move into an area only to find himself slowly being surrounded by shambling corpses only to burst from the brink of death in a twist of fate. I suppose here is where it would be lovely to see something a little more original. We’re starting to see authors attempting to break out of conventions and try new things and while The Return Man is still a great read it becomes awfully predictable. Some thinking outside of the box would have been lovely to tease the suspense a little more. Let’s not linger on what the book doesn’t do, though, because what it does do right is great.
And what it gets right is placing a compelling story in amongst the gore and ichor. The premise is that a zombie outbreak has occurred in America, but specifically the states West of the Mississippi river. This has left the East side named the safe states. Everything West is either dead or dying, except for Henry Marco who stayed behind to track down his wife. Marco is The Return Man; his job is to travel the infected states under the employ of families in the safe states. He is tasked with finding loved ones that have become corpses and put them out of their misery – or “Return” them.
One day Marco is contacted by a man named Osborne and is asked to track down a doctor who Marco used to work with and somehow holds the key to the future of civilisation. As Marco sets out on his mission he is accompanied by a Chinese spy (don’t worry it’s not a spoiler) who is after the same thing but acts as an American soldier. Plenty of backstabbing and sideways looks!
Zito has constructed a story that grips the reader, despite its cliché moments. The plot twists and turns more than a twisty turny thing and we’re forever guessing the fate of Marco – who is a generally endearing protagonist. This isn’t just a “bad ass travels across the wasteland kicking zombie heads in”. Marco was a doctor; he is a thinking man with plenty on his mind and conscience. We see flashes of his past and how he became the man he is today – four years after The Resurrection.
Apparently it has been optioned by The Ink Factory and will soon be on the big screen. I can see why as it has the pace needed for a movie as well as archetype characters and some mystery in the plot.
Now, let me lay down some properly cliché phrases to describe the book. It’s a real page turner, its action packed, the characters jump off of the page, it’s unputdownable and it’s one hell of a rollercoaster ride. I’m starting to hate those phrases but they work and they are just. Zito isn’t breaking new ground but he’s treading the old very well. The book ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger and part of me hopes that this isn’t the last we see of Henry Marco, but if he does Return (geddit?!), then I hope the old ground isn’t worn down too much.
Published by Hodder and Stoughton. This book was kindly sent from the publisher.