The Last Policeman – Ben H Winters

Title – The Last Policeman

Author – Ben H Winters

Published – 2012

Genre – Crime fiction / apocalyptic fiction / pre-apocalyptic crime fiction

When you have a book blog it is inevitable that you will be approached by people and publishers who would like you to review their book. Sometimes it’s obviously something you’d like to try, sometimes it’s very obviously not, and occasionally there’s one that you think “maybe”. I’m not sure what it was about the offer from Quirk Books that persuaded me to read something that sounded, well, a little odd, but I am so pleased that I did.

In six months time life on Earth will change forever, asteroid Maia is certain to hit, with catastrophic consequences, the only question that remains is “where”.

Many people have chucked in their jobs and gone to fulfil their bucket list, or decided not to wait out the inevitable and have committed suicide and in Concord, New Hampshire the preferred method is hanging. But Detective Palace is convinced that a “hanger” in the toilet of a McDonald’s has more to it than meets the eye.

Detective (Henry) Hank Palace has been in his dream job for just a few months and has no intention of quitting just because the end of the world is nigh. In fact his family background gives him a good reason for wanting to be a police officer, and he is the exception to the rule as he tries to investigate what he believes to be murder.

Palace is such a likeable character – after all who couldn’t love a detective who says “holy moly” and has his own set of blue notebooks to write in! He’s doggedly determined to pursue the case despite the lack of interest from his colleagues and the best efforts of his weird sister to sidetrack him.

Although this is a police procedural, it feels more like he is a solo detective – the police department is falling apart as people make their pre-meteor choices and Palace is often on his own in trying to piece together the evidence, although sometimes this works in his favour. The plot kept me guessing, some bits I worked out and some bits I didn’t.

The pre-apocalyptic setting reminded me of “Age of Miracles” but where that felt as if it missed the mark in its depiction of the earth under some potentially devastating phenomenon, what Winters delivers feels completely realistic. This setting also gives the story a feel that perhaps harks back to some classic “hard-boiled” crime fiction. The changes to the way society operates in these times – the lack of law enforcement, introduction of martial law, tough penalties for what might seem like minor misdemeanors and the involvement of the army – all contribute to a feeling reminiscent of something set in 1920’s America.

I know this book won’t be for everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The slightly sci-fi setting and the author’s style of writing won’t be to everyone’s taste. If I had any criticism of this book it’s that it is the first of a trilogy and leaves some frustrating loose ends for the next installment. I can’t wait!

Score – 5/5

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13 comments

  1. Oh, I’d heard this one was a good ‘un. I’d thought of trying it but usually sci-fi and post-apocalyptic contexts don’t exactly draw me in. This one, though…. sounds different. I’m glad you reminded me of it.

    1. I think the sci-fi aspect is quite a small part of the story (although perhaps not for the future books). It just gives the author some great scope for his story and situations that he wouldn’t normally have. I’ll be interested to see what other crime fiction people think of it!

  2. I mention Aaronovitch for the quirky element here. Loved his newly qualified coppers for which very strong characterisation. A crime reader who doesn’t like sci-fi/fantasy may struggle towards the end. But I adored Peter Grant. A wonderful character!

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