Winters, Ben H. World of Trouble.

Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2014.

Henry Palace of Concord, N.H., always wanted to be a cop and he was even an official detective for three months before the police department shut down. Because who really cares about crime, even murder, when a very large, very fast-moving asteroid is going to end the world in less than eight months?

Henry takes his vocation seriously, though, and the first volume of this trilogy (which won Winters an Edgar) followed him through his investigation and solution of a local homicide. Henry is slightly strange, of course, and doing what he knows how to do is his way of dealing with the unthinkable. The country is coming apart, people are suiciding in large numbers, other people are just trying to hang on until the end, and none of really matters.

And then there’s his kid sister, Nicco, who has bought into a nutjob conspiracy theory that the government invented the whole crisis. Henry has always looked after her and he can’t stop now. And that’s mostly the theme of the second book, along with his struggle to resolve a very peculiar missing person case. It also becomes clear during this period that the Apocalypse doesn’t happen all at once, but little by little, one small disaster and collapse at a time.

In this final volume – and I do mean final — Henry is trying desperately to locate Nicco, who has taken off with her fellow conspiracists, and he spends a large part of what little time remains before the arrival of the asteroid pedaling a bicycle all the way to Ohio, hot on her trail. (Muscle power is about the only technology that’s left.) And he does indeed find her, but I won’t give away anymore than that. And the fact that there are a couple more murders to solve.

Why does he keep doing it? “Solving a murder is not about serving the victim, because the victim is, after all, dead. Solving a murder serves society by restoring the moral order that has been upset, . . . and it serves to preserve that moral order by warning others that certain acts cannot be committed with impunity.” That’s an excellent statement of the whole point, isn’t it? But Henry has his own reasons, too. “I don’t want vengeance. Vengeance is the cheapest of motivations, it’s a tin star on a shabby coat. I want answers is all that I want.” More than that, “the world can’t end with the crime unsolved, that’s all there is to it.” Henry is pretty much a nerd, the very opposite of the suave detective or the crusty cop of the movies. But he knows what he has to do with what time remains to him, and you have to admire that.

Ordinarily, science fiction and murder mysteries just don’t mix very well, but this is a throat-grabbing exception. Because, as Henry keeps realizing again and again, the end of the world changes everything. It even requires that the author tell the whole story in present tense — because past tense means there’s a future to look back on it all from, and that’s the one thing this story doesn’t have: A future. I really can’t recommend these three novels highly enough. And the last few pages will stick with you a long time, as Henry and a young girl he has only just met hold hands and “we sit like that, giving each other strength, like strangers on a crashing plane.” Beautiful stuff.

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Published in: on 5 March 2015 at 7:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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