The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters

I don’t know where my book-o-sphere was when this book came out a couple years ago, but luckily it came back in time to inform me of this book’s awesomeness before I stopped liking bonkers speculative fiction (not that that’s ever going to happen). The world is coming to an end but there’s a policeman still solving crimes anyway? Sign me up!

Of course, the world isn’t actually coming to an end, exactly, or probably even our intrepid policeman would be giving up. It’s coming pretty close, though — there’s a giant asteroid on an unchangeable collision course with Earth that is going to kill everyone within a very large radius of where it hits and make life pretty sucky for those on the other side of the Earth.

As the story opens, our characters know when this asteroid is coming but not precisely where, but people are still committing suicide left and right because they cannot handle this unknown future. So when a dude is found hanged in a McDonald’s bathroom, everyone except our protagonist, Detective Hank Palace, is absolutely convinced it’s just another “hanger” and that it’s time to go back to sitting around contemplating inevitable doom.

But Palace thinks that there’s something weird about the crime scene, especially the strange woman he saw avoiding it and him, and he, in his adorable memorized-the-rulebook baby-detective resolve, is going to solve the case.

So obviously there’s this possible-murder plotline, which goes through all the requisite twists and turns and red herrings and double-backs of your average murder mystery, and the solution to said mystery is fairly well thought out. But the real heft of the story lies in its setting, with this giant asteroid making everyone crazier than usual in small-town New England. Winters does a great job of writing this plausible reality where some people think that suicide is preferable to whatever could possibly come after the asteroid and others think that the asteroid is an excuse to do every stupid thing you wouldn’t do if you knew you had to survive it and still others are convinced that the whole thing is a government conspiracy.

And I love our detective friend, who takes himself so absolutely seriously with the memorizing of the rulebook and the following of the procedure but also knows that he’s taking himself too seriously even if he can’t do anything about it. Palace is really the only character that gets to grow and change, but even the most one-note of Winters’s characters is somehow delightful.

This is a book that was clearly written for me, and I am very happy that there’s already a sequel waiting for me on my library’s shelves when I am ready to delve into this world once more.

Recommendation: For my bonkers-loving friends and those who like mysteries that are more about setting than plot.

Rating: 9/10

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One thought on “The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters

  1. nikki @ book punks says:

    So having just read your review of the third book I had to come back and read your review of this. Fun to see the way your opinion of it all changed throughout the series. I’m glad he notices that he’s taking himself too seriously. Otherwise, well, I was started to feel a little bit like maybe I shouldn’t read this one after all.

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