Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Last Policeman

Ben H Winters
Completed 3/5/2015, Reviewed 3/6/2015
3 stars

This is the March pick for my Science Fiction book club.  I didn’t vote for it.  I never vote for a book that’s the beginning of a series, because if I like it, then that’s a whole bunch of new books to put on my TBR list.  So I was glad that it engaged me so well that I was able to put away my bias.

The book has a fairly standard murder mystery plot.  A newly promoted detective is called to the scene of the suicide of a non-descript insurance worker.  Everything seems normal, but something feels wrong to the detective.  He suspects homicide, though he barely has any evidence.  Call it a hunch.  Everyone, including his superior, thinks he is wasting his time.  Here’s the SF twist:  the reason no one cares is that there are tons of people committing suicide because a six kilometer wide asteroid is about to slam into the earth. 

One of the reasons I liked this book is because it is a murder mystery.  I haven’t read much in the genre, so I couldn’t tell you if the mystery part is cookie-cutter or innovative.  I simply enjoyed the mystery process.  The books in the genre I have read have mostly been urban fantasy and cyberpunk noir-ish, which I haven’t always been able to appreciate. 

What really engaged me was the apocalyptic setting and the despair of the people.  It begs the existential question of why anyone would care about finding a murderer when in four months, half the population will be evaporated and most of the rest will die from the ensuing earthquakes, tsunamis, and desolate twenty-year winter.  Hank Palace cares.  His motivation is difficult to understand.  Sure, he’s only been a detective for a few months, so he might still be taking the new position seriously.  He also has an ambivalence, even a denial of his real feelings of the earth’s impending doom.  Perhaps this case gives him the ability to focus on something else, something tangible while the rest of the world wallows in existential angst.

The one part I didn’t care for was the conspiracy theory that his sister and her husband are chasing.  I’m sure it’s because that is the plot that continues through the next part of the trilogy.  But Hank is a likeable enough character that I just might continue reading this series.

This book is pretty good, not great mind you, despite winning an Edgar award.  It’s the quintessential three stars out of five.  It’s an easy read, and I liked Hank.  The author does an excellent job of capturing the despair of the other characters and their behavioral responses.  This is the perfect book when you want fluff, but still has a dark, toothsome premise.

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