Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
Genre: Mystery / Detective
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publish Date: July 10, 2012
Format: Paperback | 316 pages
Rating: 4½ of 5
Scientists have announced that asteroid 2011GV1 will slam into the earth within the next six months; it is on a collision course that cannot be altered. They can’t yet predict where the asteroid will hit, but they do know the results will be cataclysmic. Much of life on the planet will be destroyed, and the survivors may be the unlucky ones.
Once the news of the asteroid became public, people began to abandon their jobs to pursue life-long dreams. Others took the opposite approach and became depressed; suicides increased dramatically. The economy and the infrastructure began to crumble. Phone service is intermittent, food is scarce and gasoline is almost impossible to find. If there’s no chance for survival, then why continue to go to your job? One person who does carry on as usual is Detective Hank Palace. He has always wanted to be a cop and, recently promoted to detective, he takes his job very seriously. Even if the world is going to end soon.
Hank is sent to investigate an apparent suicide by hanging in the pirate McDonalds’ restroom. (There are no more real McDonalds, the company went bankrupt during the initial market panic when the asteroid strike was announced.) Hank senses something wrong at the crime scene and wants to investigate this as a murder. He is told to leave it alone, call it a suicide and move on. The reason doesn’t matter. But to Hank it does matter, and he continues to press for an investigation.
Hank Palace is a likeable character. He’s a regular guy who remains sane against the backdrop of a society breaking down. He continues to be logical and balanced while around him people spin out of control. He’s all about law and order and methodically carries out his investigation, unearthing suspects and uncovering motives. The story is not fast-paced and there are no heroics; just good detective work, a well-drawn cast of characters, and a story that presents a lot of questions for the reader to ponder.
Although the setting is a pre-apocalyptic world, it’s not science fiction. It might be a one in a many billions chance, but it is possible an asteroid could hit the planet. This is a mystery/detective story with a very original and creative premise, and a focus on what happens to society when there are no longer any rules. I liked the world Winters created and it made me wonder what I would do in that situation. (I’m pretty sure I’d be one of the bucket-list folks!)
Palace eventually solves the crime, but I wasn’t ready for the novel to end. I want read more about Hank and a society on the brink of extinction. I was pleased to learn that this is book one of a planned trilogy and a sequel is in the works.
Source: Review copy.
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