“What’s the point of solving murders if we’re all going to die?”

That is the tagline for the book The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben Winters.

It looks like a giant meteor will hit earth and do some serious damage within the year, but Detective Hank Palace is going to work every day and he’s trying to solve the latest murder. Well, first he has to prove it’s a murder and not one of the now commonplace suicides.

He’s only been in the police force for a little more than a year—he moved up the ranks quickly due to the high attrition – everyone is leaving their jobs in order to spend their last months at the beach.

Winters has imagined what would happen if everyone was told they had less than a year to live. Hoarding and abandonment of the production lines leads to shortages of basic needs and services. U2’s “Until the End of the World,” Tom Waits’ “Earth Died Screaming,” “and of course that R.E.M. song” (“It’s the End of the World As We Know It”) are having a comeback. People’s relationships and priorities are changing. The description of these consequences was my favorite part of the book and reminded me of the distopian novel The Age of Miracles: A Novel in which author Karen Thompson Walker imagined a world where the the earth’s rotation was slowing down and days were getting longer and longer.

Though it sounds like a sci-fi novel, The Last Policeman reads stylistical more like an old fashioned noir—it clocks in at just 288 pages and is told in first person. It starts out with Detective Palace standing over the dead body. Things seem a little not quite right, but at first we don’t know why. What is happening reveals itself slowly—so we feel a little like detectives in reading the book and putting the facts together.

I really wanted to love this book—it is a murder mystery with some indie creds that give it a cool factor and it even won the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original. But, while I enjoyed the pre-apocalyptic setting, the narrator and a number of the characters we met along the way, there were some plot features that didn’t work. The murder mystery itself was a bit of a letdown and there were some confusing side-plots involving Hank’s sister that didn’t make sense.

The Last Policeman is the first of a trilogy. The second book, Countdown City: The Last Policeman Book II (Last Policeman Trilogy), is already available and the third book, World of Trouble: The Last Policeman Book III,
is due in July of this year. Though I didn’t love the book, I am intrigued enough to continue on with the series.

 

 

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