Winters, Ben. The Last Policeman.

Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2012.

Henry Palace has always wanted to be a police detective, and now he is one, after only sixteen months as a patrolman on the Concord, New Hampshire, police force. That’s an unusually rapid promotion, but everything is different these days. After all, Asteroid 2011GV1 is due to strike the Earth on October 3 and it’s already late March.

When the human race has only six months of existence remaining, it’s hard for most people to get too worked up about law enforcement. But Henry takes himself and his avocation seriously.

The economy has collapsed, the U.S. Constitution has largely been gutted in order to maintain government control, the churches are jammed, and suicides are increasingly common. In Concord, that’s usually done by hanging (shooting oneself is more popular in the South), and the police don’t even bother to investigate them anymore. But for some reason, the “hanger” found at the end of a leather belt in the restroom of the local McDonald’s doesn’t feel like a suicide to Henry, and so he begins investigating it as a homicide, to the ironic mirth of most of his few remaining colleagues. He talks to the friends and family and coworkers of the presumed victim, Peter Zell, an actuary for an insurance company, and he pieces things together. And it finally begins to look as if it really was just another entirely understandable suicide. But there are just a couple of odd things. . . . And then there’s his kid sister, who needs looking after, and her new husband, who will believe any asteroid-related conspiracy theory going.

It’s been my experience that attempting to combine a science fiction plot with a murder mystery almost never works. Even Asimov’s robot stories weren’t very successful, as mysteries. But the premise here is not only highly original, it’s a grabber. As Henry notes, the end of the world changes everything. Most of the old motives for murder are right out the window, and so are most of the social restraints on those who consider committing murder. Henry is pretty much a nerd, the very opposite of the classic suave detective, and his response to the situation is a determination to do his job to the very end, largely for his own, very personal reasons. You kind of have to admire that. I understand this is the first volume of a trilogy and I’ll certainly be watching for the next volume.

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Published in: on 21 August 2012 at 10:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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