Tuesday, August 07, 2012

The Last Policeman

Roughly fifty percent of the world’s population will be dead in a few months.  You are a police detective.  People are still murdering each other for the same old reasons.  Do you really want to spend all your remaining time and energy catching the bad guys?  Is there any point?  Well, freshly minted Police Detective Hank Palace believes there is, and although everyone else is eager to call Peter Zell’s death a suicide, he is not buying it.

Maia, the massive asteroid officially known as 2011GV, is on a collision course with the earth and there is nothing anyone can do to change that.  Even the date of the devastating crash (expected to have the blast force of 1,000 Hiroshima explosions) has been publicly announced.  All that remains to be made public is Maia’s strike-point.  Surprisingly, although public services are disappearing, food supplies are shrinking, and the economy is crashing, a reasonable semblance of everyday life continues.  An increasing number of people, however, have decided to check out early by taking their own lives.  More often, they just stop coming to work, preferring, instead, to spend the remaining time with their families or doing the things on their bucket lists.

Hank Palace is not the only law enforcement officer still on the job in Concord, New Hampshire, but he is one of the few who still cares about locking criminals up now that every sentence longer than six months is effectively a sentence of life without parole.  He is certain that, as the streets become more dangerous with each passing month, the certainty of dying in jail if caught in even a minor criminal act is the only thing that keeps people even as safe as they still are.

The Last Policeman is the first book of a planned trilogy within which Ben Winters will explore what might happen when everyone knows in advance the exact date of a catastrophe that will lead eventually to the end life on the planet.  In this pre-apocalyptic introduction to the series, the United States (and presumably, the rest of the world) is already a bleak place.  Most of the characters in this dark novel reflect the bleakness of their environment, one in which nothing can be taken for granted and no individual taken at face value. 

Ben H. Winters
The Last Policeman has been characterized as a pre-apocalyptic police procedural, and that is exactly what it is.  Detective Palace’s quest to prove his hunch that Peter Zell did not kill himself - to which the bulk of the novel is dedicated - is complicated by society’s irreversible breakdown.  The crime lab is backed up for weeks, and has been falling farther and farther behind schedule as apathy becomes the norm and technicians desert their jobs.  Investigators are willing to accept the easiest, most obvious, answer for any suspicious death encountered.  Insurance companies, determined to deny as many claims as possible (in order to use the cash to pay employee salaries), make it obvious to the police that they prefer a determination of suicide to one of murder.

Through it all, Hank Palace’s determination to do right by the dead man helps to maintain a bit of order in a world that will move closer to the brink of destruction in the second book of the series.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. This sounds both very interesting and very depressing. Maybe not the best book for me at this time, but I'll try to remember it for a few months down the line.

  2. I agree, Factotum. It is a little like On the Beach, especially in tone, I think. I haven't thought about that one in years...may just be time for a re-read.

  3. This one is certainly dark, Library Girl...if you are on the edge of going into a funk, I can see how this one could tip the balance. Seriously.