Countdown City, by Ben H. Winters

Countdown CityA couple months ago I read The Last Policeman and liked it rather a lot, so when I found out that a) there were two sequels, and b) the second sequel is coming out in just a couple more months, I was like, well, obviously I’ve got to get on reading that first sequel!

So I did, and it was excellent, but just not quite as excellent as the original. Oh, series, why can you not just be uniformly awesome?

At the start of this book, our intrepid hero Hank Palace is no longer a detective, the detectives in Concord having been disbanded due to what good are they anyway when an asteroid is going to take care of all those criminals in just a few short months. But not having a badge doesn’t mean Palace is going to stop solving crimes, no sir, and so he picks up a non-paying case finding the disappeared husband of his erstwhile babysitter. It’s no simple disappearance, of course, and as Palace searches for this man he finds himself caught up in black market trading, hippie cult compounds, and government conspiracy in multiple forms.

It was once more delightful to hang out with Palace and to delve into this fascinating world where people are either preparing for the absolute worst or not preparing at all and just hoping for the best. I would proooobably be in that latter camp, let’s be honest, and it’s nice to see that at least some of the hope-for-the-best-ers are doing okay so far.

But I felt a little disappointed in Palace’s slight change of motivation from the last book. I really enjoyed the “guy who knows all the rules and follows them because why would we have rules if we weren’t going to follow them” of The Last Policeman, and “guy who solves crimes because he has nothing better to do and he’s kind of decent at it” just isn’t the same. I get that that’s kind of the whole point — what happens to a guy who follows the rules when there are no longer any rules to follow? But it turns out that Palace just gets kind of boring, so that’s a shame.

Also this book suffers from some of that second-book-in-a-trilogy malaise where the first book stands alone quite well but the second one exists largely to lead into the third one and its big ending. There’s some stringing along of interesting mysteries left over from the first novel (what the heck is up with Palace’s sister and her friends) and some new mysteries introduced (what the heck is the government doing?), and I presume that when I read the third book I will get some halfway decent answers to them.

I will most likely read that third book, though, because I am still intrigued by this world and what is going to happen to all these characters that I’ve gotten to know and like pretty well, and because Winters writes some decent sentences and I would like to read more of them. You know, presuming our Earth doesn’t get hit by an asteroid in the meantime. I’ll be watching you, sky.

Recommendation: For those who liked the first book and those who go read the first book first because I think this book won’t make a lot of sense without it.

Rating: 7/10

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