Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Last Policeman and Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

  • Release Date: January 1, 2012
  • Pages: 316
  • Genre:  Adult Mystery
  • Publisher: Quirk Books

It seems I’m getting all my book recommendations from podcasts nowadays. I heard this adult trilogy raved about by book critic Tod Goldberg on the Literary Disco podcast, so when Quirk Books offered us the chance to read and review the series, I jumped at the opportunity !

The story of the first big case for rookie detective Henry Palace could easily be a run of the mill mystery novel. Except in The Last Policeman universe an asteroid, known as Maia, is coming and in six months the planet Earth won't  exist. They are suddenly  "in a world where the idea of long term consequences had magically disappeared" which also means it's not the best time to be in law enforcement. But when Palace  suspects foul play during a suicide he strikes out  on his own to solve the murder before time ticks away.

The world around this series is just fascinating, it captured my attention more so than the actual cases in The Last Policeman books. Ben H. Winters extensively imagines the choices people would make if  they knew that  in six months everyone would be dead. Some CEOs let their companies collapse, while others do business as usual, people quit their jobs to go bucket listing,  illicit restaurants start opening. But people also start committing suicide. In fact it's so bad in Henry's New England town is called a  "hanger town" based on people's implement of choice.

Being in the first person present, we see this entire world through Henry's eyes. At the beginning of the book Henry came off as a bit cardboard-ish and arrogant, but it becomes clear he can't function in a world where the rules don't matter. He's still playing by the book even though no one else is and  he seems unable to confront the fact that the world is ending. I could never quite get on Henry's side because if he arrested anyone, he was pretty much guaranteeing they were going to be in jail until the asteroid hit.

Overall, I really enjoyed the concept of these novels. The impeding meteor adds both a sense of urgency and a sense of futility. I thought the ending of the first book was really great and hit on some of the moral gray areas of the situation. This book is the best of both worlds, it's plot driven and literary; action oriented and philosophical and creates a world that stays with you think long after the first page.

I liked the second book, Countdown City better than the first one as it is more dynamic and opens up the world beyond Henry's small town. Because Countdown City  takes place closer to doomsday, the stakes are higher and the world has become more lawless and unpredictable, so watching Henry navigate it requires him to break laws for the first time.

I think this series has a lot of YA crossover potential, it features a young, optimistic protagonist trying to make good in a world where most older adults have given up. In fact, many of the side characters Palace can really rely on for help are all in their  20s and have a hopeful invincibility about them.

The final book in the series, World of Trouble comes out in July and I can't wait to see how this series will end !

* We received this novel from Quirk Books for review. Thanks, Eric !

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