Countdown City by Ben H Winters
Please note Countdown City is the direct sequel to The Last Policeman. If you haven’t read the first book in this series then this review will likely contain spoilers. Got it? Good, now forward to the end of the world.
There are just 77 days before a deadly asteroid collides with Earth, and Detective Palace is out of a job. With the Concord police force operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, Hank’s days of solving crimes are over…until a woman from his past begs for help finding her missing husband.
Brett Cavatone disappeared without a trace—an easy feat in a world with no phones, no cars, and no way to tell whether someone’s gone “bucket list” or just gone. With society falling to shambles, Hank pieces together what few clues he can, on a search that leads him from a college-campus-turned-anarchist-encampment to a crumbling coastal landscape where anti-immigrant militia fend off “impact zone” refugees.
Countdown City presents another fascinating mystery set on brink of an apocalypse–and once again, Hank Palace confronts questions way beyond “whodunit.” What do we as human beings owe to one another? And what does it mean to be civilized when civilization is collapsing all around you?
I read The Last Policeman last August and fell a little bit in love with the premise. That first book, quite justifiably in my opinion, was well received and even went on to win an Edgar award. I make no secret of my love for apocalyptic fiction. It turns out that pre-apocalyptic crime is a wonderful sub-set of this genre.
There is a short time jump between book one and two. The Last Policeman takes place six month before the asteroid is due to hit while book two has moved to three months before. Hank Palace continues to be an engrossing character. His introspective nature is the perfect counterpoint to the increasingly desperate events that are going on round about him. Society is literally falling apart, but he remains steadfast in his dedication to his job. For Hank, it’s more than a job, it’s a calling. While others “go Bucket List”, happy to see out their final days as experience junkies, Hank continues to work. It doesn’t matter that technically he is no longer a cop, it’s the nature of his character, he just can’t let an unsolved crime go.
Once again Hank is helped/hindered by his kid sister Nico. She continues to harbour her own obsessions. She is convinced that there is a huge governmental conspiracy going on. The shadowy powers that be are allowing this global disaster to occur so that they can pick up the pieces that are left behind. This speculation is what forms the basis of the larger story arc that links all three books together. I have a burning curiosity to see where this particular thread of the narrative goes next. Are Nico’s suspicions genuine? Does a conspiracy exist? Or is it all just wishful thinking?
You might think that with such downbeat subject matter Countdown City would potentially be quite a downbeat read but it’s not. As with book one, there is still a feeling of hope exhibited by many of the characters. At one point Hank finds himself in situation where the easy option for him would be to just roll over and die, but he refuses to do so. There is a determination that drives him forward. My favourite examples of apocalyptic fiction always successfully manage to tap into this feeling, that unique spark, the indomitable spirit of humanity.
Countdown City acts as the perfect companion to The Last Policeman. That same feeling of impending doom still hangs in the air but it has been amplified to the nth degree. This growing tension is becoming almost unbearable; I love it and loathe it at the same time. I suspect this is going to make the final book in the trilogy something really quite special. I don’t know how I am going to cope until book three appears. I really can’t wait, I want to read it now dammit!
As an aside, I read recently that there is the possibility of a television series based on these books. If this does get made I can guarantee the producers will have at least one viewer. This has the potential to be a truly gripping police procedural with a distinctive hook. This could make for something truly unique.
Countdown City is published by Quirk Books and is available from the 16th July 2013. If you enjoyed book one you’ll certainly enjoy this. If you haven’t read book one buy it, read it and then buy this as well. You can thank me for the recommendation later.