Child Zero

by Chris Holm

Mulholland Books: Pub Date 10 May 2022

AMBER LOVE 16-Aug-2022 This review is a courtesy provided by NetGalley. To support this site and my other work, please consider being a monthly donor at; you can also buy my books through Amazon (or ask your local retailer to order you copies). I’m also an Amazon Influencer so you can shop through my lists of recommended products.

book cover child zero

Publisher’s Summary:

From molecular biologist turned Anthony Award-winning author of The Killing Kind comes a fact-based thriller about our species’ next great existential threat—perfect for fans of Michael Crichton.

It began four years ago with a worldwide uptick of bacterial infections: meningitis in Frankfurt, cholera in Johannesburg, tuberculosis in New Delhi. Although the outbreaks spread aggressively and proved impervious to our drugs of last resort, public health officials initially dismissed them as unrelated.

They were wrong. Antibiotic resistance soon roiled across the globe. Diseases long thought beaten came surging back. The death toll skyrocketed. Then New York City was ravaged by the most heinous act of bioterror the world had ever seen, perpetrated by a new brand of extremist bent on pushing humanity to extinction.

Detective Jacob Gibson, who lost his wife in the 8/17 attack, is home caring for his sick daughter when his partner summons him to a sprawling shantytown in Central Park, the apparent site of a mass murder. Jake is startled to discover that, despite a life of abject squalor, the victims died in perfect health—and his only hope of finding answers is a twelve-year-old boy on the run from some very dangerous men.


There aren’t too many novelists as qualified as Chris Holm to create a science-fiction story based on a plethora of actual documented scientific facts. Holm takes readers through a world similar to the COVID-19 pandemic and makes everything much worse. The pandemic within CHILD ZERO isn’t one disease—it’s all of them. Holm focuses more specifically on bacterial infections that are contagious. He narrows the world down to New York City where detective Jake Gibson’s problems begin with trying keep his sick daughter Zoe safe and hidden from the newly established Department of Biological Security.

Holm’s action thriller creates a brand new masculine hero for today’s real world readers. This isn’t John McClane or The Transporter. Jake Gibson is selfless. He’s willing to work with a team (in this case, his injured partner on the police force Amy, his ex-girlfriend Hannah, and a strange young boy Mateo) unlike 1980’s quintessential heroes who generally had to fight alone or evolve to trust one person by the end of their story. This includes female heroes like Ripley and Sarah Conner.

In this version of New York City, the shutdown to contain diseases from spreading is more cruel. People are required to report their illness to the DBS which will relocate them to colonies much like the leper colonies of the ancient world. If someone doesn’t report themselves or their loved one, neighbors are expected to rat them out.

Climate change is referenced by the descriptions of the city’s record-breaking heat, cursed by seven consecutive years of the planet warming. Holm addresses many of the most important issues facing society today: racism, classism, greedy capitalism, immigration, and healthcare. The way Child Zero packs all of that into one breakneck story is phenomenal. Hospitals have followed the way of pharmaceutical companies with profits and the ability to pay driving decisions. When the Harbinger virus, ArBGR01, is released in Arctic because of climate change, it spread across the planet making the rich richer and vulnerable dying off in masses. No antibiotics work against illnesses unleashed because of the virus. As Holm writes, a papercut could kill you.

Jake’s ex-girlfriend, Hannah Lang, was on a path to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, but after Harbinger, everyone is on the trauma lines. Despite their awful breakup, Hannah is willing to take Zoe and care for her in hiding so the DBS doesn’t remove her from Jake’s custody. His wife already died from Harbinger and he is motivated to keep Zoe alive at all costs including breaking all the laws necessary and going against his captain’s orders.

Mateo Rivas is just a child. He’s from an immigrant family and has spent most of his life inside the confines of “Park City,” the colloquial name for Sheep Meadow Emergency Refugee Center which was created after the 8/17 bioterrorism attack. Mateo has a special gift that a pharmaceutical mogul named Ethan Rask and the DBS would do anything to get their hands on. Children are smarter than adults generally give them credit for, but when it comes to the maturity of Mateo, Jake notices and accepts it. This new relationship of a man and a strange boy adds to this new hero Holm has created. Mateo is every bit the hero that Jake is, but instead of the public image of being a cop, Mateo lives every day keeping his good deeds a secret. Over time, rumors circulate and eventually two different armies are after the boy.

Amy (Amira) Hassan is Jake’s partner on the force. She’s a hijabi woman of color who keeps her personal boundaries up all the time. She’s a bit brusque to everyone undoubtedly due to a life of openly hostile racism and microaggressions. Amy is a character who will not quit. She’s unstoppable and pure of heart like a medieval champion. She believes that she can affect change in the NYPD from the inside. When she and Jake are suspended at the beginning of the story, they end up on this apocalypse team together due to violent circumstances.

Child Zero also has a fairly unique presentation. Like Stephen King’s Carrie, there are newspaper articles sprinkled in between chapters. There are also segments of dark web chats. Readers who love a good cyber thriller will savor these parts of the book which are integral to the web of crimes responsible for mass murder.

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Chris Holm created one of the greatest science-fiction thrillers with Child Zero. The way every single aspect of modern life is depicted is heartbreaking. From blights making vegetables and other agriculture products rare items for the rich to life-altering classist encampments filled with dying people, Child Zero doesn’t hold back. This is bound to be my favorite book of the year.

Rating: 5 Stars (I’d give it more if possible)

five star rating

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