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The Last Policeman: A Novel by Ben Winters
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The Last Policeman: A Novel (edition 2012)

by Ben Winters

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,1661326,950 (3.84)1 / 209
Member:jklugman
Title:The Last Policeman: A Novel
Authors:Ben Winters
Info:Quirk Books (2012), Edition: First Edition, Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:home, fiction, science-fiction, mystery, read, read20121214

Work details

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Recently added byprivate library, tokyoadam, Wildlord12, aynar, hepzibah59, sonoKoala
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Showing 1-5 of 134 (next | show all)
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." ( )
  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 |
This book would be a police procedural, but since the world is about to end when an asteroid collides with Earth in six months, newly elevated police detective Henry Palace is essentially operating as a private detective. Henry suspects that the assumed suicide of an insurance actuary was a murder. However, given the state of the world no one but Henry is feeling really inspired to investigate crimes. Henry's sister also enlists his aid in tracking down her missing husband. What you have is a crime story with something really interesting going on in the background. The author used the same formula in "Underground Airlines", which was one of my favorite books this year, so the formula seems to be working for him so far.

This is the first book of a trilogy and accordingly there are lots of loose ends at the conclusion of this book. However the murder mystery does appear to be solved. I usually find that authors stretch the story too thin when they write trilogies and that the second books, in particular, tend to be placeholders, but I'm hoping for the best with this one. This was a very entertaining book and a quick read and I will definitely read the next book. ( )
  fhudnell | Dec 11, 2016 |
If there was an asteroid heading for Earth, and you knew it was going to cause mass extinctions and probably kill you, how would you spend the last months of your life? Would you carry on with your duties? Are there some things still worth fighting for, even though death for almost everyone is close at hand?

Scenario:

The stock market have collapsed.
World trade has slowed. Who wants to pump oil when they only have a few more days to live?
People tend to do what they want, money is not so much of a motivation.
Murder, suicide and sexual crimes are all up, so is police brutality.

This book forces you to think about whether there are some abstract concepts that matter. In this situation, there won't be many left that will know if you stood up for principles or how you died. If no one will know, and you'll be dead, does justice really matter? It's an angle I'd never thought of before I read the book. Ben Winters does a brilliant job with this his story. There’s the usual chasing down blind alleys. What did it for me was the fact that there was a larger plot, about humanity. Winters is skilled in doling out the bits and pieces without belaboring the point that there's an asteroid on its way. Maia is always there, but in the unspoken background. So I suppose, if Winters were the type to hit a reader over the head with things, this could have been an even more depressing book than it was.

For me the book felt depressing and claustrophobic, but to describe the book in just two word really sells it short. This was a profoundly affecting read. ( )
  antao | Dec 10, 2016 |
The coming asteroid end-of-the-world transforms a police procedural into something rather wonderful and poignant. ( )
  jjaylynny | Nov 12, 2016 |
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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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Epigraph
"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"
Dedication
To Andrew Winters, of the Concord Winters
First words
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)

(summary from another edition)

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