The Horror Honeys: Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week

Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters


A few years ago, I picked up a slim paperback called Bedbugs <cringe> by Ben Winters and enjoyed it quite a bit, so when a friend recommended his Last Policeman trilogy, I was all too eager to give it a shot.  While not as creepy-crawly as Bedbugs, The Last Policeman is worth your time, especially if the two follow-up books are anywhere near as good.  Book Two (Countdown City) is out already, and I believe Book Three is expected this year.

The Last Policeman was a rare treat for me as the Hardcover Honey, if only because it is a pre-apocalyptic read, instead of my much more commonly selected post-apocalyptic reads.  Focusing on Detective Hank Palace, the book takes place over just a few days, but in Detective Palace's world, each day is especially weighted, because a massive asteroid, dubbed Maia, is approaching Earth, is scheduled to hit on or around October 3rd, six months and eleven days from when The Last Policeman kicks off.  Expectations are that half of the world's population will be killed almost immediately by earthquakes, tsunami, and the like.  And as for the people who survive, it's pretty clear that they will be facing a pretty hostile environment.

As expected, plenty of people have already dropped out of the work force, some wealthier one-percenters off to fulfill their bucket list items, some less fortunate disintegrating into a world of hard drugs and hard crimes, and lots of people who seem to have just......given up....in many cases evidenced by the steady onslaught of suicides, mostly by hanging, that seem to have infected Palace's city.

It's one of these “hangers” who sets Palace off through the events of The Last Policeman, one Peter Zell, an unmarried, childless man who's found hanging in a stall at a local McDonald's (which is now more of a renegade McDonald's location run by an enterprising local, Palace noting that there are no more real McDonald's anymore, the company having folded the year before when “ninety-four percent of its value having evaporated in three weeks of market panic”.  

Something about the scene of the hanging seems off to Palace, and he's troubled by what he sees as inconsistencies.  Why is there an expensive belt wrapped around Zell's neck when he's already wearing a serviceable belt of his own?  Why does he sport bruises that look as though someone punched him in the face?  As Palace works the case, the rest of his department seems to be largely apathetic, as is the Medical Examiner, Zell's co-workers, and even Zell's own sister.  Everybody has their own fish to fry and just six months left to do it.  This lent the book a cloak of unreality, a sort of dreamy quality wherein our standard-issue gumshoe is working the angles of a pretty standard case, but keeps coming up against this ticking time bomb asteroid looming over everything that everybody does and says.

But work the case Palace does, and as he struggles to pin down a suspect, he works his way through interactions with Zell's former boss, a high-school friend, another former co-worker, the intriguing Naomi Eddes, who Palace himself becomes intertwined with.  As if this case and the impending end of the world weren't enough, Palace also has to deal with his hysterical younger sister Nico, who firmly believes that there is an escape plan for the world's elite in place, and is determined to expose it.  And all of this with very spotty cell service.

Unless an asteroid hits Earth in the next few weeks, I am planning to pick up Countdown City, and I'll be fascinated to see how Winters wraps up existence in Book Three.  This book made me look inward and think hard about what our world would look like if we all knew it was ending in six months – and I didn't like what I saw.

Hardcover Honey Verdict: Four out of five hurtling asteroids for this one.