Author – Ben H Winters
Published – 16 July 2013
Genre – Crime fiction / apocalyptic fiction / pre-apocalyptic crime fiction
When I reviewed The Last Policeman I said I couldn’t wait for the sequel, but there was no choice and I had to be patient. Fortunately the lovely people at Quirk Books sent me a review copy of Countdown City, so I guess the wait was kept to a minimum! The Last Policeman, first in the ‘Hank Palace’ trilogy, won the Edgar Award for the Best Paperback Original in May this year. Countdown City is the second volume in the series.
The book opens on the 18th July – just 77 days before a deadly asteroid is due to collide with Earth. It’s now a few months since Hank was forcibly retired from the police force, but that doesn’t stop him being approached by Martha, his ex-babysitter, to help find her missing husband. In the current situation, though, people are going missing all the time – a consequence of the seemingly pre-determined end to life as we know it is that people are either dropping out to go on bucket-list adventures, committing suicide to avoid the inevitable or joining one of a number of fledgling religious sects. But Hank is still harbouring his sense of social responsibility and agrees to help search for Martha’s husband.
As the book unfolds we learn more about the impact (no pun intended) that the forthcoming apocalypse is having on everyday life. For me this is one of the highlights of Winters’ writing, the depiction of an utterly believable near-future. Imagine a US where private ownership of firearms is illegal! The police no longer investigate crimes, there’s limited power supply, virtually no internet, and a rumoured influx of refugees from the other side of the world. In terms of Hank’s investigation this means he will need to resort to some old-fashioned detective work.
There is a small cast of characters – an estranged sister, his friend Trish who remains a police officer, a couple of ex-colleagues and of course Harry his purposeful Bichon Frisé (and possibly the best trained dog ever). Hank is a great character as the hero / detective. He’s mild-mannered and seems to be a truly good person, he treats the situations he finds himself in with a calm, almost impassive approach. Of course it’s always possible that he’s burying himself in the detail of the case in order to avoid the impending disaster!
Not only does Winters provide a great leading character and a well-drawn near-future, he also injects a wry sense of humour into the book which serves to lighten what is potentially a very dark situation, but as with all good crime fiction there are moments of tension too.
Countdown City is the middle of the trilogy and I’m sure that someone could pick this up and enjoy it without reading The Last Policeman – but why would you not start at the beginning?
A worthy sequel. I am now torn between wanting to read the next book as soon as possible and the realisation that it will be the final part of a trilogy that I don’t want to end.
Score – 4/5