I first caught Jonathan Maberry when I bought Patient Zero on a whim a couple of years back. Basic story was that lunatic terrorists were creating a zombie plague (of sorts), and a hastily-assembled tactical team attempted to take them out. In the course of the book, we were introduced to key characters Joe Ledger (our protagonist), Ghost (his dog), Rudy (his friend and therapist), Echo Team (the hastily-assembled tactical team), DMS (the covert agency responsible for dealing with situations like this), and Mr Church (the boss of DMS).
I've never been a huge fan of the military operation books. Andy McNab does not grace my bookshelves (although I have the utmost respect for him). Zombie books do, although I'm not a hardcore obsessive. So, taking a chance, I tried a new author (something I do every now and then, usually when I've exhausted whichever author currently has me hooked. Most recently, Preston and Child. But that's another story). I was, very pleasantly, surprised. Ledger turned out to be an engaging character, with the sense of (often inappropriate) humour which tickled me. That same sense of humour helps drastically in cutting through what could be a fairly ridiculous situation. Thoroughly recommended.
Anyway, following the initial Patient Zero came Dragon Factory and The King of Plagues. Each with their own new challenges for the developing Echo Team. Relationships and friendships built. Challenges were faced, adversities overcome, and each would make a fine standalone adventure. But, building behind the scenes, a bigger story started to emerge. A shadowy organisation (of Kings) bent on twisting the world for their own purposes. And lurking in the shadows, given nothing more than a throwaway moment, someone else.
Which brings us to Assassin's Code. The theme of each of the books so far has been to take a genetically-modified twist on some classics - zombies, dragons, etc. This time we're treated to vampires, in the name of terrorism. Being only the fourth book in the series, this is still early enough to feel fresh, and gives a nice little take on the vampire mythos. Some familiar characters reappear, to greater and lesser degrees. And there's the usual mix of excitement, adventure, action and suffering. Maberry has a nice touch when writing action and fight scenes - enough technical info to feel interesting, without overloading. Echo Team, at this point, have their core membership and their new members (which seems to be a now standard format in the books), and as with the previous titles, no one is safe. Knowing that Maberry is not afraid to kill off established or new characters lends a nice sense of risk to every scene. (And yes, two of those deaths are brutal and upsetting. I will miss those characters.)
Joe continues to evolve, and from the initial Echo Team encounter spends a good half of the book working in isolation from his teammates, accompanied only by Ghost - although relations between the two end up a little strained. Joe's backstory is expanded on a little more - the history of what led to his psyche fracturing a little, and it's nice to see that he hasn't immediately moved on from loves lost. I find Joe to be a surprisingly engaging lead, rooting for him in action, and more than once laughing at his snarkiness. His interactions with his team, Ghost, adversaries, superiors, and a potential new... partner, continue to delight. The overall story contains vamps, genetics, a race to find nuclear bombs, and a few other things which would be implausible in lesser hands (can you tell that I'm trying to avoid spoilers here?). Which makes for an ideal story.
However, it's the behind-the-scenes action which raises the interest another notch. After the introduction of the Kings earlier, I suspect a pattern will be to see them returning again and again in different incarnations and/or roles. Assassin's Code uses two Kings to varying effect, and brings in another old character (marking their third, and presumably not last, appearance). Beyond them, another figure starts to move into prominence, and in doing so brings a noticeable and not fully-comfortable shift in the tone of the books. Where previously the zombies and the dragons and the vampires had been genetically modified creatures, with at least some basis in nature and/or science, this figure seems to be fully routed in the supernatural. Certainly his actions and abilities seem immediately unexplainable by conventional methods. How this pans out, we'll have to wait and see.
The only other niggle I have is that all four books appear to have taken place in the space of a year. That's a tough year. And I'm not really sure that Joe and his team actually have any time to recover - mentally, emotionally, physically. Other than that, it's a hell of a book. Thoroughly enjoyable - accessible to people new to the series, but you'll benefit far more from having read the first three.