First published back in March of 2012, ‘The Return Man’ formed US author V. M. Zito’s debut novel, playing into the current return to popularity of the thriving zombie apocalypse subgenre.

DLS Synopsis:
Ever since the Resurrection tore America in half, life for the remaining population of the once power-nation-of-the-world had been confined to the vastly overpopulated boarded-off Safe States, located along the Western coast of the US.  The remaining Evacuated States were left devoid of all human life.  That is, except for the vast numbers of the bloodthirsty walking dead…and Henry Marco.

Marco had previously been a doctor at the Cedars-Sinai hospital.  But now four long years have passed since the Resurrection first hit America, and Marco’s old life as a doctor seems a distant memory.  But he still clings to one strong fragment from his past.  One part of his old life that resulted in his staying behind in the Evacuated States.  Although he has searched and searched and searched, he still has not managed to find the reanimated corpse of his wife Danielle.  But he isn’t about to give up.  He’ll keep on waiting - checking the trap outside their plush home in Arizona, staking out the places that had meant something special to her, and simply hoping that she will turn up somewhere sometime soon.

In the meantime, Marco was providing an ‘under the radar’ service to the good people of the Safe States.  For a small price, he had been seeking out and ‘Returning to the dead’ peoples loved ones.  A Zombie Hitman for hire if you like.  His brother-in-law, Benjamin, was arranging the jobs for him over in the Safe States, and passing on the necessary details via their webcam links.

But then, after returning to his safe house after a particularly tricky Return job, Marco is confronted over his brother-in-law’s webcam by the Interim Director of Operations Coordination for the New Republican government.  An instantly dislikeable man named Owen Osbourne.  And the news isn’t good.

After being pretty much forced into agreeing to perform a Return job on an old colleague of his, a man named Doctor Roger Ballard, Marco sets out for California where he hopes to locate the target.  To help him with this high priority mission, the New Homeland Security has assigned a Special Forces RRU unit to accompany Marco on the journey across the wastelands of America, and on to Sarsgard Medical Prison where Ballard was last seen alive.

But the mission begins with an ominous start when the flaming wreck of a military vehicle cuts across the road behind Marco whilst he is only first setting out.  Trying to rescue the figure trapped inside the vehicle, Marco is almost made into zombie-nosh by the hungry hordes of the undead.  But he is rescued at the last minute.  His rescuer, a highly trained solider named Kheng Wu, informs Marco that he is the only surviving member of the RRU outfit.  But together they will continue with the mission, and kill the undead Doctor Roger Ballard...

DLS Review:
Zito’s debut post-apocalyptic zombie-fest is certainly a high-adrenaline race through a barren but dangerous backdrop of America.  The tale starts out very much like an ‘I Am Legend’ (1954) clone, with absolute last-man-on-earth syndrome feeding the storyline for all it’s worth.  However, with the emergence of the somewhat forced mission to locate and kill Doctor Ballard, the whole energy of the novel shifts quite dramatically, instead cranking the threat level up a good few notches and bringing a marriage of uncertainty and conspiracy into the whole equation.

The novel is essentially following Marco and Wu across America, with plenty of the undead to cope with along the way, as well as the much greater threat of the ‘Horsemen’ militia who want Ballard for their own purposes.  Throw in a pretty emotive backstory surrounding Marco’s decaying relationship with his wife Danielle and the death of their two-day-old baby, and you’ve got one pretty darn intense zombie apocalypse novel.

Zito doesn’t wallow in military-porn like many of the other novels in this tight subgenre do.  However he does bring a thick slab of gun fighting mayhem to the table at somewhat regular intervals.  The action and bloodshed is always hard-hitting and graphically strong.  Zito more often than not basks in the visceral gore of the fighting, plainly delighting in the gut-churning details of these blood-drenched scenes.

The novel is fast-paced and adventurous with the ingrained emotional platform that accompanies the characters each and every step of the way.  Indeed, there are reasonably complex depths to the handful of characters that make up the novel, in particular the so-very-clichéd love/hate relationship between Marco and Wu.  There are no great twists up Zito’s sleeves, nor with the way in which the characters interact.  They’re all well-fleshed-out and gradually evolving, with good strong (often straight to the point) dialogue, that keeps the tale on track to an edge-of-the-seat finale to finish the tale off in style with.

Zito leaves the end open for a sequel with a few choice comments made to whet the appetites of the readers as the novel’s curtains finally descend.

The tale runs for a total of 414 pages.

© DLS Reviews



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