Ben Winters writes a lot of books for Quirk: those weird Jane Austen books (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters), the itchy Bed Bugs, and the Last Policeman series. I’ve somehow collected a bunch of his titles without even realizing it. For the 24 Hour Readathon I finally took on The Last Policeman.
It’s the end of the world… or at least the last six months until the end of the world. People are quitting their jobs and fulfilling their bucket lists before life as we know it ends. Not Detective Hank Palace. It was his dream to be a detective and even though he’s come into the job by default, he’s going to do it right.
With the end nigh, it’s not a surprising to find a corpse hung in a McDonald’s bathroom; Concord is known as Hangertown. It’s the preferred method of self-disposal. This situation doesn’t look like the usual to Detective Palace. He suspects murder and he’s willing to hunt for a killer when everyone else is happy to call it suicide and go home to their loved ones.
The Last Policeman is not your usual detective story. Along with the need to solve the case, there’s the psychological pressure on the characters of knowing that everyone on earth is going to die soon. How will they handle this fact? It’s the last six months, society is still pretty much intact. There are people who have decided to do all the things they’ve meant to do, and people who end their lives before a giant chunk of ice ends it for them. The news of where an asteroid will hit the earth hasn’t been revealed yet. It’s still a bit of an abstract idea. Slowly, reality begins to hit the characters over the course of the novel. How they react to this realization is one of the most interesting parts of the story. What would we do? Just go on with our lives?
Detective Hank Palace doesn’t dwell on the incoming space rock too much. He’s a man with a one track mind which makes him somewhat socially awkward. He can recite parts of Criminal Investigation but will bend the rules when he feels he’s right.
The mystery was of secondary interest to me. It was clunky and I knew who the killer was when they showed up on the page, just not the why. There is a subplot involving Hank’s sister that have potential. I’m very curious to read the rest of the series.