Book Review: The Last Policeman by Ben Winters

I have read Ben Winters before – my favourite being Bedbugs. He is generally a pretty funny guy with a talent for the macabre.

I like him.

I love a good post-apocalyptic thriller, or a dystopian world where people fight t survive … this book is neither … and yet it’s both. As well as being a Murder Mystery. You see, the world is about to end. There’s no mistake about it or malice in it – it’s just that it will end. An asteroid will plunge into our planet and destroy masses of civilizations. And everyone knows it. This is a story that runs headlong into the apocalypse, carrying everyone along for the ride, even while differentiating between accepting it and letting go.


What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?

Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.

The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.

The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman offers a mystery set on the brink of an apocalypse. As Palace’s investigation plays out under the shadow of 2011GV1, we’re confronted by hard questions way beyond “whodunit.” What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?

This book didn’t initially hook me in. The first few chapters are a massive info-drop where Winters basically lays the world out as it is: about to end, with everyone in chaos. And a murder. I will admit – initially, I was less enthused about the murder storyline and more interested in the world building: this is our world, completely turned on its head because everyone is facing their own mortality at once.

What I found particularly good about this novel was the difference between us now and us as we would be. There are some characters that have “Gone Bucketlist” – those who decided that since their time was short, they would do those things they’ve always wanted to do; There are those that are still in denial – they keep their heads to the papers, looking for any indication that there was a wrong calculation or a small percentage chance that it would be okay. And then there’s Henry, who attained his dream of being a detective and faces his own mortality on and off. He has regrets – but most of them are regrets that relate to how he has treated people or where he has screwed up in relating to people. He is very complex – growing more and more tired as the novel progresses, his work the only true calling in his life, the only thing that keeps him sane.

The murder itself was pretty good – it kept me guessing all the way to the final pages, though I had an inkling as to where we’d end up on the final pages and i was not disappointed – everything becomes a little bit more complex when it’s the end of the world.

All in all this was a pretty good book with a world that will be revisited at least twice more in the two sequels (the first one, Countdown City is already on my nightstand!) and I look forward to exploring more of the characters that I’ve met, particularly Henry’s fascinating sister …

What have you been reading lately?




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