cover image The Return Man

The Return Man

V.M. Zito. Orbit, $9.99 mass market (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-21828-3

Zito’s debut is thrilling, melancholy, and stomach-churningly gory. In the desolate heat and haunting emptiness of the zombie-infested American Southwest, ex-neurologist Henry Marco is hired by the living to “return” their undead loved ones, a euphemism for blowing their brains out. Marco also yearns to find and “return” his own wife. Hired by the Department of Homeland Security to track down a scientist who may have developed a cure, Marco embarks on a journey across the desert, encountering packs of shuffling, flesh-chewing zombies; sadistic gangs of bikers; and a Chinese assassin with whom he inadvertently teams up. Zito amps up the action with a nightmarish showdown in the bowels of an abandoned prison and viscerally unbearable descriptions of human mutilations. The zombies are pretty standard and Marco’s philosophical ruminations are sometimes both redundant and expository, but taken as a whole, this is a sturdy and crowd-pleasing novel that squarely hits its target. (Apr.)