Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review of "The Last Policeman" [58]

The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben Winters
Quirk Books, ISBN 978-1594745768
July 10, 2012, 288 pages

"What's the point in solving murders if we're all going to die? Detective Hank Palace has asked this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. Several kilometers wide, it's on a collision course with planet Earth, with just six precious months until impact.

The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. Industry is grinding to a halt. Most people have abandoned their jobs. But not Hank Palace. As our story opens, he's investigating the latest suicide in a city that's full of suicides—only this one feels wrong. This one feels like homicide. And Palace is the only one who cares. What's the point in solving murders if we're all going to die?

The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman offers a story we've never read before: A police procedural set on the brink of an apocalypse. What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?
Golly, a police procedural set on the brink of an apocalypse..don't hear that every day, do you?
I wondered, is it just a gimmick, another hanger on to the popularity of dystopian literature. Well, as is so often true, I was wrong.

The fact that it was picked as one of Amazon's best books of July 2012 was the first clue. Then there was Kirkus Reviews' very positive take on it, saying "the beauty is in the details rather than the plot’s grim main thrust."

Yes, that pre-apocalyptic thing is a little grim, always just at the edge of our vision as we follow what Hank thinks is a murder investigation. And what would be the motive to kill someone, not in an act of passion, but in a planned, coldblooded way, when so few things, like money or power, have much meaning as the days tick by. Hank, a very likable character, is just not willing to overlook what he feels is a crime, even if there will be no time for a trial, imprisonment, if a murderer is caught. So is there a point? Well, Hank thinks so and I think, so will the reader. As the author said in an interview,
"Well you know, he took an goes to the heart of what the book is about. All the promises and assurances we make to each other and ourselves, as a society-from wedding vows between people to mutual defense pacts between nations to the illusion that paper currency has value- how much is any of it really worth."
How much indeed?

But it is also a fascinating aspect, perhaps the most fascinating aspect, of the book. What would we do if we knew the world was going to end in a few months? Some run off to chase their bucket list. Others turn to crime and drugs and anarchy. Many despair and kill themselves. In Concord, New Hampshire, where the book is set, the chosen method of suicide, for some unknown reason, seems to be by hanging and finding another dead body, a rope, a belt, a cord around their neck, is no longer unusual.
But some, like Hank Palace, keep on doing the work, for as long as they can.

Some obligations, like family, never change. For Hank that means his sister Nico, always a bit of a black sheep and someone who may be, as things are starting to spin out of control, involved in something very shady, very dangerous. But how dangerous is anything if you are soon going to be dead?
The last scene, where he realizes that his may be the last time he ever sees her is so sad. But then, as he realizes, every day may be the last time he does any number of things. I must say, I am very eagerly awaiting the next book. Things are changing in this world Winter has created, and Hank is a fascinating person to be watching it with.
I tell you..I just can't wait.

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book for review.


  1. I like the sound of this book. What would you do indeed? Go to work seems like a plan. Thanks for highlighting it and I'll be on the lookout for it.

  2. I'm really excited about this book and now I'm sitting here wondering what I would do if I knew the world would end in six months.

    1. He creates that idea so well, I found myself thinking about what I would do for days....

  3. Just read about this on another blog! like this one very much.

  4. Jill said the protagonist is a little bumbling and the murder mystery itself is nothing wonderful, but it is more the activities that all are taking place knowing your days are numbered. Interesting! Has my name all over it I think. Just recently watched Melancholia, which is about stuff happening while a large planet hurtles towards Earth. Started some interesting discussion in my house!

    1. I agree that it is more about the pending situation than the mystery. Really, is there any point in pursuing a murderer when soon everyone will die?
      and the look at all the people the investigation introduces, how they are all coping is fascinating.

  5. I published mine today too! I loved the pre-apocalyptic stuff!

  6. I just posted my review of this recently -- I liked the story, and the fact that even though there was a murder being solved, that there was, always lurking in the background, the fact that in 6 months, the world was going to radically change. It's a nice twist on both the pre-apocalyptic story, and a typical police procedural.

  7. Supposedly the world was going to end sometime in the late 70's. Both my kids didn't do their homework because . . . well, why bother? There wasn't going to be any planet left. None of the other kids did theirs either so what could the teacher do? I guess human nature will just start avoiding the unpleasant stuff if they don't feel there is any point to it.


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