Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: "The Last Policeman" by Ben H. Winters

Though my usual "end of the world" loyalties lie in post-apocalypse zombie-style entertainment, such as The Walking Dead comics and tv show, The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters made my first pre-apocalypse read exciting and suspenseful.

The Last Policeman is narrated by Detective Hank Palace, one of the few police officers still dedicated to doing his job after the announcement of the imminent impact of an asteroid.  Palace has to juggle the case he is working on and helping his sister deal with her good-for-nothing husband, in addition to maintaining some semblance of order in a broken world.  Through his dedication to his case, interactions with family and witnesses, and small sections of back story, we get to know Palace and begin to understand why the case is so important to him: the victim reminds him of himself.

When the Earth has an official death day looming, obviously everything happening in the world is going to undergo massive changes.  People quit their jobs, turn to drugs, travel... One of my favorite elements in the book is the world (re)building, as the rules of the world we know are uprooted and replaced by new unfamiliar rules, where anything could happen.  The police force, along with everyone else, has to turn from once essential tools: cell phones, computers, and internet, back to making house calls, using pay phones, and having all documents in hard copies only.

My only reservation about this series so far is that Palace isn't a very reliable narrator.  Palace is investigating a death that everyone else is sure is a suicide, but he can't shake the feeling that there's something strange about it.  In the fourth chapter, Palace is summing up the facts of the case, reminding himself that the victim "had staggered around for eleven weeks in a haze of dread and then, two nights ago, had hung himself with a belt."  He then asks himself, "So why am I driving around Concord, trying to figure out who killed him?" (76-77).  Yet the investigation continues.  As a reader, I agreed with Palace, there were suspicious circumstances.  I just would expect that we'd see more certainty out of a detective (even a newly appointed one).

Towards the end of the novel, as the mystery is solved, the answers are kept from the reader in a faux-suspense raising ruse.  I understand Winters' choice to keep the mystery a little longer, but the story is told in first person, which makes me feel entitled to all of his thoughts as in the rest of the novel.  Instead, we see summaries of dialogue we should have heard:
I raise Detective Culverson on the CB and I tell him that I've solved the case.
"You mean, your hanger?"
I run over the whole thing for him, and then there's a long pause, radio crackling in the silence, and he says that's quite a bit of police work I've been doing. (271)
Of course, it wouldn't have been dramatic or interesting to just have Palace explain the case over the CB, but there's no reason that the conversation should've shown up in the novel at all if we weren't going to have access to the information being discussed.  After this exchange, his thoughts include things like "And that person - that person is the killer" and "I have to apprehend the suspect" (281, 282).

Minor annoyances aside, I'm eager to read the next in the series, "Countdown City", as the asteroid comes nearer and nearer to Earth.  The final book of the trilogy is set to release this summer.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Quirk Books for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.


  1. Yeah I definitely think you're going to enjoy Countdown City. I, myself, am super stoked for the last in the series!

    1. Yay I hope so! I'm going to start reading it soon! :)