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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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6129115,926 (3.84)94
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

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The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Recently added bykarenb, trav, jltaglich, beckybury, Cobscook, private library, ktswjw, FicusFan, suitable1, dreamstuff
  1. 20
    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.

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Showing 1-5 of 92 (next | show all)
Time is limited, we've always known that, but in this novel, time really is limited. There is an asteroid headed toward earth (think Armageddon-style), and people aren't handling it well. Most people have left their jobs to fulfill their bucket lists--including policemen. Our main character finds himself recently promoted to detective, even though the consensus is that there isn't much point to investigating--at this point, nothing will ever reach the courts. In a world where most deaths are suicides, this new detective finds a man who looks like he's committed suicide, but he has his doubts. He wants to investigate, and for the most part, his bosses let him, even though they think he is wasting his time.

Is it suicide? A murder? Even if it is a murder, is there any point to investigate it? ( )
  csweder | Jul 8, 2014 |
Certain phenomena contribute to crime rates. Full moons. Sporting events. Or, say, a giant asteroid on a collision course with Earth, threatening to snuff out all life.

Wait, what?

Thus is the premise of Ben H. Winters's The Last Policeman (Quirk Books, 2012).

Henry Palace is a newly minted detective on the Concord (New Hampshire) Police Department. A beat cop for just over a year, Henry was promoted a few months ago due to the unusual circumstances; scientists calculated with 100% certainty that an asteroid with a seven kilometer radius would soon strike Earth. In the wake of this catastrophic knowledge, the global economy has collapsed, society has disintegrated, and people are "going bucket list," using what time they have left to do all the things they've always wanted. Meanwhile, Detective Palace is in a McDonald's restroom in the middle of the night, the scene of a another "hanger." Palace isn't sure that Peter Zell's was a straightforward suicide. But who's solving crimes with the apocalypse coming?

Motivation--in police jargon, "motive"--is a concern of Winters'. Of course, given the scenario he constructs, Winters is interested in how people face the threat of imminent death. Winters portrays a world tottering forward despite the promise of its certain demise. Many people, including the suicide, Zell, an actuary, continue to go to work, the end of the world notwithstanding. It's as if routine is an opiate, making bearable the knowledge of the coming cataclysm, or perhaps an instinct, a behavior coded so deeply into our beings that we're powerless to do otherwise. Palace, mysteriously, almost supernaturally, remains calm and focused on the events immediately before him, the little pieces that seem so inconsequential compared to the larger story. Palace is the kind of quiet, workaday person who would be unremarkable in normal circumstances, but who, in his stolid acceptance of the hopeless future, and his defiance of it, by doing his job the best that he can, achieves heroic status.

Really, when you get down to it, The Last Policeman is less a detective story--although it is that--than it is an existential mystery. When Palace begins considering the "motive" of Zell's murderer, he inadvertently raises the question of his motive, of why he continues to care in a world gone mad. Palace's fellow detectives retreat into their own consolations, whether it's conspiracy theory, or gluttony, or smoking marijuana (which has been legalized). Palace plods onward, applying to the case the lessons he learned from textbooks on police work.

Ultimately, Winters' asteroid might be read as a metaphor. Aren't we all dying, whether or not a giant rock plows into Earth? There are fleeting moments when we're aware of "the human endeavor," the "connectedness" of all things, if you will, but our individual wants and needs crowd out that awareness. (There is a scene in the sequel, Countdown City, in which a college student forlornly caresses his dead iPhone, as if it's still operational, that expertly captures our tendency toward solipsism.) On that level, the individual, personal level, we're all facing down our own doom; when we die, we're dead and gone, whether by asteroid, hanging, or getting hit by a bus. Like Winters' characters, we carry on knowing that we will die. How we do so, and why, is the real mystery at the heart of Winters' novel.

That's not to say that Winters doesn't deliver a satisfying "whodunnit." Zell's death and the circumstances surrounding it are well crafted, and Winters introduces us to a variety of characters, from Zell's family, to his former best friend, drug dealer Toussaint, to Palace's love interest, Naomi Eddes. The latter is particularly welcome, as she serves to humanize Palace, who is sometimes so literal and intense as to border on being alien, a notion supported by his appearance (very tall, and, I imagine, quite thin).

Indeed, if there is a weakness in The Last Policeman, it is the character of Palace, who, despite being the narrator, remains frustratingly opaque for much of the early portion of the novel. The first person narrative device, of course, limits readers' knowledge to only that which Palace himself knows, serving an important function in terms of the mystery. Likewise, first person permits Winters to describe the events he describes as they're being experienced by a character living through them. Still, it is not until the story is well underway that readers first begin to catch glimpses of Palace's character--of his motives and motivations. Humorless, intense, Palace responds to his colleagues' jokes dismissively, with "Okay," and, "Sure." He doesn't have time for the niceties that permit people to function in normal society, especially when the world's about to end and time is short. Palace's back story informs his present, and readers will welcome the revelations as they're shared. The character of Palace's younger sister, "Nico," not only serves to further humanize him, but also advances a subplot that carries into, and plays a larger role in, Countdown City.

Winters received the Edgar Award for The Last Policeman, an honor of which readers are likely to approve. Winters uses a compelling, plausible end of the world scenario to establish a fatalistic atmosphere that lends itself both to a detective story and to the larger philosophical questions in which he's interested. The sense of doom Winters creates, his vision of collapse, renders the story poignant; readers will find themselves drawn in. The characters are well drawn and recognizable; Winters manages to humanize Palace and invest readers in his fate. The Last Policeman will appeal to lovers of mysteries and speculative fiction, but fantasists should beware: This novel remains firmly in the real world, and Detective Palace wouldn't have it any other way. Highly recommended. ( )
  LancasterWays | Jul 7, 2014 |
Young Detective Henry Palace is called out to the scene of what appears to be a suicide, but, sensing that there is more here than meets the eye, he doggedly sets about investigating the possibility of murder. Given that a large asteroid is scheduled to hit the Earth in six months' time, though, most of his colleagues don't quite understand why this one suicide should be regarded any differently than the zillions of others that have been happening lately, or why he even cares at all.

I found this an enjoyable read. The mystery is decent, the pre-apocalyptic setting is interesting and well-rendered, and there's something weirdly charming about Palace and his insistence on clinging to order and procedure, even as the world is about to end. I already have the two sequels to this; I'm looking forward to reading them soon. ( )
  bragan | Jun 30, 2014 |
In some ways, The Last Policeman is a typical police procedural: a Concord New Hampshire policeman stumbles on a person who appears to have hung himself, he becomes convinced it is a murder in spite of everyone from the DA to the coroner saying it is suicide, he perseveres and investigates it, along the way there is a tiny bit of thrill (in the form of one lame attempt on his life and one additional murder) and in the final chapter the murderer is revealed.

In some ways, The Last Policeman is a typical near-future pre-apocalyptic hard science fiction novel. It explains how a rather large asteroid is headed towards Earth, how it's peculiar orbit originally misled scientists about its orbit, how it is estimated that it result in the deaths of over half of humanity. All of this well told starting in media res but then providing a significant past story of how the asteroid was first discovered, the rising odds of it hitting, the announcement that it was certain, and the impact all of this had on society.

By combining these two The Last Policeman becomes significantly better than either. In part that is just a way of alleviating the diminishing returns to either genre. But, more importantly, they actually fit together: the imminent end of the world is an important part of the explanation of how the investigation proceeds, the motives of the people involved, and ultimately in part the solution to the murder itself.

Lurking beneath all of this is more of a conspiracy/thriller plot, with secret Federal installations, rumors of a Federal moon base, and ultimately the dissolution of the local Concord police department and its replacement by Federal authority. This all plays a relatively minor part in this book--but you get the sense that it will all loom increasingly large in the next books of what I believe is supposed to be a trilogy. ( )
  nosajeel | Jun 21, 2014 |
Such an interesting premise, especially for fans of post-apocalyptic fiction: what's the world like as the apocalypse approaches? Winters has created an appealingly human main character, a man who is determined to continue being himself in the face of annihilation. He meets other characters along the way who are (or are not) true to themselves in the face of disaster. So the story becomes, in addition to an interesting murder investigation by a very human character who makes human mistakes, a rumination on what we truly value (hint: the Bucket List-ers are not the ones with the answer). ( )
  plaidlibrarian | Jun 20, 2014 |
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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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When the Earth is doomed by an imminent and unavoidable asteroid collision, New Hampshire homicide detective Hank Palace considers the worth of his job in a world destined to end in six months and investigates a suspicious suicide that nobody else cares about.… (more)

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