Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Last Policeman Review

There was so much of this book that I really, really enjoyed. Ben H. Winters, the author, wrote the Jane Austen mashup Sense and Sensability and Sea Monsters, which I did not read, although I did like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, not written by Winters.

Anyway, there are so many post-apocalyptic, dystopian books out there but this book took a different tack. In six months from the present date of the book, a massive asteroid is going to collide with the earth. No one knows where yet but the world has been living with the knowledge of the asteroid, known as Maia, for almost a year.

Subsequently, many people are killing themselves across the globe. In Concord, NH, the preferred method of suicide is hanging, so much so that people call the city "Hanger Town". The book opens with what looks like a typical suicide - an accountant is found dead in a McDonalds, having used his belt to kill himself. Detective Henry (Hank) Palace is at the scene of the crime. He is relatively young, in his mid-20s, and hasn't even been a detective for 3 months. His promotion was a result of someone leaving the department either due to suicide or a bucket list. A lot of people in this world do Bucket List, as Winters refers to it.

Palace is a bit of an anomaly. On one hand, he is fully aware of the potentially apocalyptic future that his world holds. But on the other, he's just a guy with an awesome work ethic, trying to keep some normalcy in his every day life. It's pretty funny how most of the other detectives tend to blow off their work - as most people in the world do (pot has become legal, but much of the rest of the US has become a bit of a police state - no driving, restrictions on weapons, etc) by drinking or indulging in other vices. Detective Palace just goes about his business in a very focused manner.

He starts to suspect that the suicide of Peter Zell, the accountant, is actually a murder. But really, no one cares. People are dying all over the place and this looked like a suicide so others in his department dismiss his suspicions. But Palace sticks with it, navigating the pre-apocalyptic world to try solving the crime. But of course, it takes a while to find out if it really was a murder.

Along the way we meet several colorful people - Hank's younger sister Nico, a bald woman named Naomi, various members of the police force, etc. Winters has created a very interesting premise here, and apparently this is going to be the first of a series (or at least a trilogy), so I'm really interested to see what happens next. I really liked Hank. I highlighted a lot of passages  about him along the way. Other characters dismiss him or admire him for his continuing work ethic even in such a dangerous time.

The one thing I didn't like was towards the end when Hank puts all the pieces of the puzzle together. He does so without revealing the suspect to the audience, although I figured it out around the same time that he did. It's a little irritating that he runs around putting a plan together to reveal the suspect. Winters seems like he's trying a bit too hard there to make the ending shocking. As I said, I figured it out and I thought the suspect was a good one and that the plot made sense but it just felt like Winters was trying to do a whole 1940s noir thing that wasn't quite working for me.

Overall I liked the detective a lot. There was also some lovely, poignant writing in here, like this excerpt from the Slate article (link below):

In this dire, doomed world, what the city of Concord needs—what we all need—is a guy who just wants to do his job. Late in the book, a frustrated Palace grouses to his favorite diner waitress—a kindred spirit who slings hash every day and still tries to expand Palace’s palate even though, seriously, who the hell cares—“I feel like I wasn’t made for these times.”
“I don’t know, kid,” the waitress responds. “I think maybe you’re the only person who was.”

That being said, I really enjoyed the book as a whole. It's interesting to see how society devolves in the face of catastrophe and I think that it was a different take on the whole apocalypse mania going on today. I will definitely be reading the others in the series!

The book's website


Buy it at amazon and Barnes & Noble 

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