REVIEW: The Last Policeman

REVIEW: The Last Policeman

Title: The Last Policemanthe last policeman

Author: Ben H. Winters

Publication: Quirk Books on May 13, 2013

Paperback, 336 pages

Genre:  Mystery, Noir, Sci-Fi, Dystopia

What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?

Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.

The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.

The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman offers a mystery set on the brink of an apocalypse. As Palace’s investigation plays out under the shadow of 2011GV1, we’re confronted by hard questions way beyond “whodunit.” What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?

I was able to cross two books from my Autumn TBR list this past week. The Last Policeman was the one of them.

The Last Policeman is a cross-genre novel. It has a touch of dystopia, but also embodies a bit of classic detective noir. Usually when I think of a detective novel, I imagine that the plot hinges on some difficult or impossible situation. This story, however, brings a breath of fresh air to the tried-and-true genre of police procedurals. This time, there is six months left until the impending apocalypse comes crashing to Earth.

Ben H. Winters chose an interesting pace for this novel. This is not your usual methodical police procedural. It’s also not your usual apocalyptic fiction. It has a slow moving pace compared to the usual crime thrillers. There’s only six months left, yet there was absolutely no urgency in this book. It’s not like those fast-paced-sprint-to-save-the-world sort of book (which I LOVE), but all the same my interest was held throughout the whole book.

I really loved the descriptive prose and the thought Winters gave to what is going on in a pre-apocalyptic New England town. The details made it so real and frightening. The government daily re-evaluates protocols and militarization. The streets are lined with abandoned cars and trucks as oil reserves dry up. Abandoned or destroyed buildings occupy the space next to another fully functioning business. Cellular networks are on the fritz. Conspiracies are rampant. 

Everyone in this novel approaches the end of the world in a different way. Some turn to drugs or crime.Others abandon their responsibilities to complete their bucket lists. Religion and suicides increase exponentially. Some obsess over the details in the impending doom, yet others try to feign ignorance.

Hank Palace chooses to work.  He copes by his dedication to his duty and by attempting to maintain the status quo despite the failing infrastructure. He’s a young detective who is finally working his life-long dream job. Hank isn’t an infallible or wizened officer. He’s green; he’s young; he messes up; he’s wrong frequently. He does not really know what he’s doing. He’s also not getting a lot of help from his colleagues, but then again, does this case really warrant it? Does anything even matter? 

The plot is one of the oldest in the world of detective fiction: a suicide that seems “off”. Yet, there is one difference. No one cares.  Even the reader is brought into the story on a rather apathetic note. Hank has waited his whole life for a case like this. But why this case?  Why does it have to happen when there’s a giant asteroid headed to earth?  Is he really that dedicated to pursuing justice or is he doing what so many others are doing: living out his bucket list in the few remaining months left on earth.

More than anything else, I wanted to get to know Hank Palace.  He seemed steady and calm.  He was maybe wound a little tight, but who wouldn’t be at a time like that? This make made me a little more introspective than usual. How would I react? In a way, we all know we’re going to die eventually, but then suddenly it becomes a certain reality. Is it better to know the end is coming or to not know?

Anyone close to me knows that I am much more likely to watch “Men in Black” or “Independence Day” over something a bit more award winning. (Side note: who is excited about “Geostorm” coming out in Nov?  Anyone? Just me?) What I liked most about this pre-apocalyptic novel was that instead of following the saviors or majors players, this book looked at the every-day Joes, the people just trying to bide their time until the end comes. 

A note about perspective and tense. I am not a fan of first person present tense. I’d usually much rather read a story over a stream of consciousness.  This book, however, was what first person present should be. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. I’m deffo planning on finishing out the trilogy. It probably won’t be for everyone with its bleak story and slow-moving pace, but I would recommend that you give it a shot. It’s not necessarily a murder mystery, so you don’t need to be a crime junkie to enjoy it.   

Grade: B/4 stars

Recommended for: Readers who like an introspective stories or who like to ponder the end of the world. Readers who like character-driven plots.  Readers who are tired of the same old dystopian novels. 

You should totally buy it here: The Last Policeman: A Novel (The Last Policeman Trilogy)

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