Book Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Title: The Last Policeman
Author: Ben H. Winters
288 pages, Published by Quirk Books
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What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die? Detective Hank Palace has asked this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. Several kilometers wide, it’s on a collision course with planet Earth, with just six precious months until impact.

The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. Industry is grinding to a halt. Most people have abandoned their jobs. But not Hank Palace. As our story opens, he’s investigating the latest suicide in a city that’s full of suicides—only this one feels wrong. This one feels like homicide. And Palace is the only one who cares. What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die?

The Last Policeman offers a story we’ve never read before: A police procedural set on the brink of an apocalypse. What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered? (Summary provided by Quirk Books.)

My Thoughts:

What would you do if you only had six months to live before the entire planet is obliterated by an asteroid? Would you keep living the same way you always have? Would you cash in your retirement and try to complete your bucket list? Or would you go a little crazy? The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters proposes this scenario and the resulting novel is amazing.

The protagonist Hank Palace is a dedicated police detective who knows something isn’t quite right when called in to the scene of a “hanger.” Hank instinctively knows this is no typical doomsday suicide and is determined to find out what exactly happened to Peter Zell. Palace is a good cop and a fascinating character painted with precision by Ben H. Winters. Hank Palace reminds me of the sort of characters that populated the detective novels of the 1940s. My grandfather would hand over detective novels with protagonists like Hank Palace, covers crumbling from years of being read and reread, to me as a teen recommending each one with enthusiasm. It is this idea of the old fashioned, “by the book” detective set against the fantasy backdrop of an asteroid closing in on Earth that drew me over the line of merely liking The Last Policeman to absolutely loving it.

The Last Policeman is the first book in a trilogy. I hope the next book picks up with the subplot from this book. The subplot involved Hank’s troubled sister Nico. I don’t want to give anything away, but I would love to see more Nico. I would also like to catch a glimpse of New Orleans eventually. In The Last Policeman, New Orleans is described as having gone off the grid and a place people have taken off to in the end times for a walk on the wild side. I spend a lot of time in New Orleans, so I’m dying for a peek at “off the grid New Orleans.”

I am a sucker for books or films that deal with the human side of impending disaster. The Last Policeman’s pre-apocalyptic setting gives the reader a sense of impending doom coming from all directions. From the disturbing number of suicides all over the world to the loss of modern conveniences in the months leading up to the disaster to the slow decay of civilization as a whole, Winters’s subtle portrayal of a police detective trying to do his job while the world around him descends into madness is chilling. Ben H. Winters’s novel Bedbugs was one of my favorite books of 2011, and I had high expectations for The Last Policeman. Winters didn’t let me down. The Last Policeman is a book that will keep readers intrigued and entertained until the very last page.

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  1. says

    I enjoyed BedBugs as well and got excited when I heard about this one. After your review, it is going on my wishlist. I can’t wait to read it.


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