The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

policeman_winner-cover_Layout 1I’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.

What it’s about: In only a few months, an asteroid will crash into the Earth — an extinction-level event, but police detective Hank Palace is determined to solve his first murder case.

At heart, The Last Policeman is a murder mystery. A police detective discovers a “hanger,” an apparent suicide, in a McDonald’s bathroom, but inconsistencies in the crime scene lead him to believe his hanger is actually a murder. So he sets out to find the murderer, doggedly following the clues where they lead him.

The twist is that all this is happening during humanity’s last days, and everyone knows it. An asteroid is going to slam into the Earth in about six months. This fact overshadows everything that happens in the novel. Police and other necessary services have been depleted, since many people have quit their jobs, going “Bucket List,” while others opted for suicide. A crackdown on certain crimes, especially drug trafficking and terrorism, is approaching martial law. And everyone wonders why Palace is even bothering to solve this murder. Even he wonders that frequently, but yet he keeps pursuing the case obsessively, even when it begins to impact the lives of people close to him.

Why I liked it: I thought this novel was very entertaining: a pretty good mystery, a fascinating premise well executed, an interesting narrative voice. The end left me hanging a bit, until I did a little online research and discovered it was only the first installment of a trilogy. I guess everything has to be a series now. I liked the book enough that I will probably pick up the next one.

Who would like it: I would recommend this for any reader of science fiction or crime who likes to see these genres combined in new ways.

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