Thriller Thursday Audio: Public Enemy Zero by Andrew Mayne
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tantor Audio (June 9, 2020)
Length: 9 hrs and 53 mins
Narrator: Kevin T. Collins
Imagine this: You wake up one day to the whole world suddenly wanting to kill you. Just the mere sight of you makes people fly into a uncontrollable frothing rage, coming at you with gnashing teeth and clawing hands ready to tear you limb from limb. This is what happens to Mitchell “Mad Mitch” Roberts, protagonist of Public Enemy Zero by Andrew Mayne. One evening, he was simply on his way to the radio station where he works as the late night show host, when he notices a young woman struggling with a flat tire on the side of the road. Nice guy that he is, Mitchell stops to offer help. Everything seems normal until he gets the woman’s attention, and she takes one look at him before launching into a snarling attack with murder in her eyes.
Terrified, Mitchell takes off, not knowing what he did to set the woman off, but chalks it up to just a random occurrence. But then it happens again. And again. At his ex-girlfriend’s house, where he barely gets a chance to say hello before being chased down the street by her and her new boyfriend. Then there was the traffic cop, who practically shreds herself to pieces in her mindless rage to get at Mitchell through the shards of his broken car window. Or at the mall, where he foolishly thought he would get reprieve with lots of people out and about. The ugly results of what happens next makes headline news, but even after studying the security footage for hours, cops are unable to explain how one man could have caused a mob to go after him like that with such mindless ferocity. Babies still strapped in their strollers were abandoned. Purses and wallets left behind. Injuries caused to themselves and others ignored by the horde as people fell and were trampled to death in their determination to get at Mitchell and rip him apart.
Meanwhile, our protagonist who barely managed to escape has gone into hiding. He knows something is seriously wrong with him, but he doesn’t have a clue what. He also can’t turn himself into the police or ask for help, not trusting the authorities not to have a similar violent reaction as everyone else the moment they get close to him. Besides, who will believe him?
Like many of Mayne’s other lead characters, Mitchell is a clever and resourceful guy who next proceeds to try and Macgyver himself out of this sticky situation (sometimes, he even feels a little too smart for a supposedly everyday Joe Schmo). And like many of the author’s books, this one was an action-packed, humorous, and over-the-top read. However, keep in mind that it’s one of his earlier works, and admittedly, that fact is pretty evident in the writing which feels more forced and awkward than his more recent stuff like The Naturalist series. I’ve become a huge fan in recent years though, and so when I found out an audiobook version of Public Enemy Zero was getting a new release, I decided to take this opportunity to explore his backlist, even knowing that it could get a little rough.
In the end, I’m glad I did, especially since the audio format worked well in this case, as Kevin T. Collins’ natural, easy narration was able to smooth out a lot of the writing’s rough edges. The book was also easier to enjoy, knowing you aren’t supposed to take it too seriously. The premise, as you can probably tell, has the feel of a fun “what-if scenario” experiment, no doubt inspired a little by zombie movies and conspiracy thrillers. From the story’s tone, I think Mayne had quite a blast writing it too, exercising his imagination and trying out some new ideas. The result is a wildly entertaining romp, as long as you don’t mind not getting much realism or answers. In fact, the one attempt at explanation using a side plot involving an Earth spirit and her fanatical follower ultimately fell flat, and honestly, the story would been better off without it at all.
So, would I recommend this book? That depends. For readers curious about checking out Andrew Mayne, I would definitely point to The Naturalist series or his new book The Girl Beneath the Sea to read first. For existing fans wondering if it’s worth picking up his earlier work though, Public Enemy Zero might be something you want to look at, keeping in mind the prose is a bit raw, with some hiccups like too much telling and not showing, clunky phrasing, clumsy transitions, awkward internal monologuing, etc. Mayne’s newer stuff doesn’t really have these problems because his writing has clearly improved and he’s found his rhythm and style, but for me it’s always fun to visit a favorite author’s older work—something I’m aware I don’t do enough. I still enjoyed this, and will likely continue to revisit Mayne’s early stories whenever I get a chance.