The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters
The world is about to end – would you investigate a murder?
An asteroid is about to collide with the Earth in six months time, and wipe us all out. Would you give up your life and go of to fulfill your ambition, take solace in drunken pleasure, live in fear, or solidly carry on doing what you do? Detective Hank Palace faces this stark question, and as others walk away from their jobs he carries on. A murder has been committed, and it is his job to solve it – problem is, none of his colleges believe it is a murder, and neither does the coroner – just Hank’s instinct, and in a city that has a dozen or more suicides a week even that might be wrong. What’s the point in solving murders if we are all going to die anyway? As Hank investigates further, undercurrents begin to surface –who was the victim obsessed with the asteroid? Did he know something about it that the rest of us don’t? Is there a conspiracy afoot? In a world where politicians have run of to the Bahamas for one last sun-drenched beach holiday, where the US Army runs internment camps for protestors, where churches and synagogues are packed with worshippers, and religious fanatics are on the rise, the reader is confronted with hard questions – What is the basis for civilization? In an imminent apocalypse, would the world we know grind to a halt with a long, slow whimper? What is life worth, and, most importantly, what would any of us do, really do, if we only had six months left to live.
This book may win the prize for the most intriguing premise of the year. If you knew that the world was going to end would you keep on doing the job that you do now?
Detective Henry ‘Hank’ Palace is a man with on a mission. As the world is falling apart round about him, he tries to focus one hundred percent on the job in hand. As time passe, it becomes increasingly difficult for him to do this as more of the local population become apathetic towards anything other than their own wants and needs. This is where I think The Last Policeman really excels. Winters gripping prose drip feeds the reader details of the inevitable collapse of society. Events begin with just a few subtle hints of how bad things have become, but as time creeps ever forward you get a real sense that the situation is only going to get worse. Some give into their own melancholy, while others try to put a brave face on it. Through all this Detective Palace remains resolute.
Where I was surprised is that as the plot continues to unfold, there are some nice unexpected moments that force events off on completely different tangents. Winters plays with the readers expectations and I’ll admit there were a couple of moments that managed to catch me completely off guard. The thing to remember is that normal rules no longer apply, and character motivations are entirely different from what you would expect in a standard murder mystery.
It’ll hardly come as a surprise when I tell you that this sort of story prompts a certain amount of introspection? I think there would have to be something seriously wrong with you if you didn’t start pondering what you would do in this situation. Could you maintain some semblance of normality or would you throw it all in to follow your dreams while there was still some time left? It’s not often that a crime novel leads to that sort of internal debate.
The good news is that there are another two novels set to follow on from The Last Policeman. One set three months before the asteroid is due to hit and one set in Earth’s final month. I have to admit that I am already insanely curious about what is going to happen. There is a sub plot concerning Hank and the relationship he has with his sister, Nico. Both their parents are already dead and Nico is the only family that Hank has left. She is involved with some potentially shady people and there is a suggestion that there is a huge conspiracy going on. I do hope this is something that is explored in the other two novels.
Winters has left just enough loose ends in the plot to keep this reader interested. He has crafted a story that manages to avoid being entirely downbeat or pessimistic and instead offers just the smallest glimmer of hope. I have to admit that I kind of liked that. I’ll be checking these out as soon as I can get my hands on them.
The Last Policeman is published by Quirk Books and is available now. Highly Recommended.