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The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben Winters

The Last Policeman: A Novel (edition 2012)

by Ben Winters

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1,2161336,556 (3.84)1 / 224
Title:The Last Policeman: A Novel
Authors:Ben Winters
Info:Quirk Books (2012), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:home, fiction, science-fiction, mystery, read, read20121214

Work details

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

  1. 30
    Countdown City by Ben H. Winters (sturlington)
    sturlington: Countdown City is the sequel to the Last Policeman
  2. 00
    The Fractal Murders by Mark Cohen (JanesList)
    JanesList: I can't explain quite why, but these two detectives remind me of each other.
  3. 01
    We all looked up by Tommy Wallach (meggyweg)

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The heart of this book is a police procedural. Policeman Hank Palace has been promoted to Detective and is called to the scene of what looks to be a suicide -- insurance man Peter Zell has hanged himself in the restroom of the local McDonalds. The story’s twist lies in the background – an asteroid referred to as ‘Maia’ is scheduled to impact Earth in 6 months.

The author does very well in exploring how the impending ‘end of the world as we know it’ has affected people, their families, careers, major businesses, crime, etc., and manages to do so without distracting from the primary investigation. Hank has always wanted to be a policeman, and his promotion to Detective is a result of so many people taking “early retirement” in order to make the most of their last months of life. What I liked about the character of Hank is his doggedness and enthusiasm for the investigation, especially in the face of so many others’ ambivalence. He is encouraged to close the case as a suicide but Hank is determined to do his job right, even when (especially when) he will have so little time to enjoy his career. You get the idea that Hank is very well adjusted and is resigned to the asteroid, but as the investigation proceeds and becomes more complicated, Hank struggles to find meaning and purpose in his job.

I’ll admit the ending is not great – although the case is wrapped up, there are other plotlines left unresolved. Normally this would annoy me but I’ve learned this is the first book of a planned trilogy so I will just look forward to reading the next book.
( )
  dorie.craig | Jun 22, 2017 |
This is another detective story with a twist. In this case, the twister is, what's the point in trying to solve a murder when we're all going to die soon anyway?

It's the near future and an asteroid is headed for Earth. Apocalyptic destruction and devastation, almost certainly the end of mankind is expected within the year. Already ordinary life has become chaotic, and the police department where Hank Palace works is no exception. So many police officers have walked off the job to pursue their bucket lists, or something else, that rookie Hank is promoted to detective. When a dead body shows up strangled in a local fast food restaurant most law enforcement officials are content to write it off as a suicide. Indeed, the cause of death appears to be hanging, and suicide by hanging has become so common that its victims are referred to as "hangers". Hank, however, thinks otherwise, and stays on the job, continuing the investigation.

The book is primarily a mystery, but all around society is disintegrating as people cope with the unthinkable. As the novel states, "The end of the world changes everything from a law-enforcement perspective." I enjoyed this book, and it is apparently the first of a series featuring detective Hank Palace. I expect I'll read the next book in the series, and perhaps more. Obviously, the series can't go on forever. ( )
  arubabookwoman | Apr 19, 2017 |
Very good detective story with the apocalypse as a background story. ( )
  antrat1965 | Apr 7, 2017 |
The Last Policeman (trilogy), by Ben H. Winters (4 stars)

consisting of

(1) The Last Policeman (2012), by Ben H. Winters (3½ stars)

Six-word reviews (regular and bonus):

(a) Apocalyptic scenarios always deliver paranoid thrill.
(b) Ok, I'll read the next one.

(2) Countdown City (2013), by Ben H. Winters (3½ stars)

Six-word review: How they cope with impending destruction.

(3) World of Trouble (2014), by Ben H. Winters (3½ stars)

Six-word review: As time runs out, what matters?

Extended review:

This trilogy drew me in quickly with its premise and its main character. The earth is on a collision course with an asteroid, and no way of averting or surviving the catastrophic impact seems possible. A young police detective named Henry Palace is determined to pursue his calling, solving cases and stopping criminals, despite the fact that it is arguably pointless: everyone is going to die soon anyway.

The series thematically poses the questions: How do we spend our time? and does it matter?

Henry Palace's answer to the latter is yes, it matters. And his conviction that it matters is the key to his passion to spend his time, by his lights, well; or, at any rate, in such a way that his inner imperatives are satisfied.

Like some number of other trilogies, this is really one three-part novel (divided, I always think somewhat cynically, for marketing reasons rather than from any inherent structural necessity), with, typically enough, a little slack in the middle segment. It does have a clear arc, from beginning to end, with Palace's central question playing out against a backdrop of all the probable and plausible reactions to the world's imminent ending.

Publication of the three installments in three successive years does have the virtue of giving author Winters time to learn how to spell "imminent," which (as someone ought to have told him before 2012) means something altogether different when it has an a in it.

The character of Palace, as first-person narrator, is motivated by two compelling forces: first, the loss of his parents when he was twelve, one to senseless violence and the other to suicide, and second, a solemn promise to protect his adored younger sister and never to abandon her. "[A] promise is a promise," he says in book 2; "...and civilization is just a bunch of promises, that's all it is. A mortgage, a wedding vow, a promise to obey the law, a pledge to enforce it. And now the world is falling apart, the whole rickety world, and every broken promise is a small rock tossed at the wooden side of its tumbling form." (page 209)

He recalls a quote from his father, an English professor: "One thing we can learn from Shakespeare, Hen, is that every action has a motive." In searching out and exposing the motives of others, he unsparingly shows us his own, both the unequivocal and the conflicted, and how they translate into deeds.

Palace is by his profession a man of action; but by his nature he is also a man of reflection, and his self-awareness contributes depth to his narrative of a global society in crisis. His evaluations tend toward understatement: "The end of the world changes everything, from a law enforcement perspective." At the same time, his character seems not to develop according to fictional convention. I don't see him growing and changing under the pressure of the challenges he faces. Rather, in the way of a more abstract character such as we see in a fable or allegory, he remains constant and becomes ever more resolutely what he is, even through self-doubt and questioning, as if his true role were not to play a part but to serve as a mirror.

In this capacity he confronts us with moral questions of our own; for in fact, as we all know despite our natural tendency to regard it as unthinkable, each of us is on a collision course with death; and even if we aren't facing it at a precisely forecast moment, and by a known means, and in simultaneous company with the rest of humanity, it still behooves us to ponder the question: what shall we do with the time that is given to us?

Not that the author or his narrator ever poses it outright; but it is implicit in the variety and kind of human responses to it that the three novels depict. The coping schemes that Palace observes range from public madness, mayhem, and destruction to a feverish obsession with reading everything in the library to a quiet, dignified surrender such as Nevil Shute describes in On the Beach (which Winters cites by name in book 1).

And denial. Speaking only slightly facetiously, I suggest that the series could be read as a crash course in the fine art of denial, which proves to have the potential for more dimensions than any impending catastrophe.

But the trilogy is not a catalog or a sociological thought experiment. It's a story, a series of stories, an intersection of stories, fraught with murder, revenge, justice, terror, cowardice, love, loss, loyalty, acceptance, and an ennobling capacity to rise above our meanest instincts. Palace is a detective, and he detects a good deal more than the solutions to the crimes he commits himself to solving. His final choice to embrace the common bond of humanity becomes his defining moment.

Four afterthoughts:

• Considering the number of novels that I have ditched on or before page 1 for being written in the present tense, I regard it as a testament to the author's skill in storytelling that I put up with this irritating stylistic practice all the way through three parts in quick succession. I could see an argument that present tense is better suited to a narrative anticipating the end of the world in our time than, say, a historical novel of the Middle Ages.

• It's worth special mention that all three books, in the trade paperback format in which I read them, came out to exactly 316 pages. I surmise that that was not happenstance but some kind of minor feat of self-editing.

• Even though I rated each of the three at 3½ stars, I gave the series four because it stays strong through all three segments and delivers more than the sum of its parts.

• Bonus points for one of the neatest encapsulations of character that I can remember in a contemporary novel: namely, the sister, who, when told, "The situation is what the situation is," retorts, "I disagree." ( )
1 vote Meredy | Mar 19, 2017 |
A great who done it, in an interesting setting. A life-ending asteroid is plunging toward Earth, but his detective stays on the case of a suicide that doesn't seem right to him. ( )
  dougcornelius | Jan 27, 2017 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Winters, Ben H.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Horner, DoogieDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McGurk, John J.Production managersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pushnik, JonathanCover photosecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Even for Voltaire, the supreme rationalist, a purely rational suicide was something prodigious and slightly grotesque, like a comet or a two-headed sheep." -- A. Alvarez, The Savage God: A Study of Suicide
"And there's a slow, slow train comin', up around the bend." -- Bob Dylan, "Slow Train"
To Andrew Winters, of the Concord Winters
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I'm staring at the insurance man and he's staring at me, two cold gray eyes behind old-fashioned tortoiseshell frames, and I'm having this awful and inspiring feeling, like holy moly this is real, and I don't know if I'm ready, I really don't.
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Book description
What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die? Detective Hank Palace has asked this question ever since asteroid 2011L47J 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?
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CRIME & MYSTERY. In THE LAST POLICEMAN, Edgar Award winner and New York Times bestselling author Ben H. Winters, offers readers something they've never seen before: A police procedural set on the brink of an apocalypse. What's the point in solving murders when we're going to die soon, anyway? Hank Palace, a homicide detective in Concord, New Hampshire, asks this question every day. Most people have stopped doing whatever it is they did before the asteroid 2011L47J hovered into view. Stopped selling real estate; stopped working at hospitals; stopped slinging hash or driving cabs or trading high-yield securities. A lot of folks spend their days on bended knee, praying to Jesus or Allah or whoever they think might save them. Others have gone the other way, roaming the streets, enjoying what pleasures they can before the grand finale. Government services are beginning to slip into disarray, crops are left to rot.… (more)

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