The Last Policeman
Ben Winters

What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?

Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.

The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.

The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman offers a mystery set on the brink of an apocalypse. As Palace’s investigation plays out under the shadow of 2011GV1, we’re confronted by hard questions way beyond “whodunit.” What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?

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Six months to annihilation? Oblivion? Armageddon?

I don’t know what I would do. Pray maybe. Talk with my wife as to what she would want. My action choices would depend on practical factors, my income; how money is still being used; the practicalities of what can be done; can one still travel? Is gas still available everywhere? Is it safe to travel? Practical?

If I were on my own and given practicalities
Once the practical things have been examined, I would like to get on my motorcycle and ride. Ride across Canada, then into the USA to see how people are coping, what they are doing, how they are dealing with the crisis. My response to the consideration of the end of the world is almost quasi selfish. If I were on my own, it would be totally selfish…I would grab my camera, get on my motorcycle and just see where I end up. I would like to think that I wouldn’t dwell on the end much. I am curious at what others do in life now, how they live, what they do and how they cope…so that would still remain, I think.

As for the more philosophical question about morality, ethics and human values. I would like to think I am moral, ethical and principled. I think I would pursue the murderer, not out of ethical responsibility but out of anger. Who does he think he is taking a life? What kind of thinking is he guilty of just snatching away another person’s life when the end for us all is so near? Why does he think he is ‘God?’ I would be after this bastard because someone taking so much control of another person’s destiny really upsets me.

Oh! Oh! I am supposed to be reviewing a book…lol.

Mixed review
The story is a jig saw puzzle of anecdotal, verbal pieces strewn about on a table for display. The pieces don’t even lie flat on the table surface but plop onto other pieces causing confusion and discontinuity. I struggled with keeping the characters straight; understanding what was happening with things like gas, money, retail stores. But perhaps that is how things would happen in the real world. Who knows?

The writing does not flow but skips from one situation to another without evident organization or a distinct plan. Perhaps Winters intentionally wishes to have that chaotic world and maybe it would be so if it were to happen, but for me as a reader, it is disconcerting. I like a book, a story to have a more linear development, fewer jagged edges and unexpected deviations. Our protagonist deduces who the killer is near the end of the book, as should be, but if the author thinks I should be able to make that deduction at the same point, he is sadly mistaken. I fail! I would be rejected from this police force.

Little tidbits glued together
The story is series of little stories glued together. Nico, our insurance victim, the love interest, the drug dealer, all have a little part to play and the author verbally paints each little story and then glues all of the pieces into a tapestry of a novel. Does it work? Maybe on paper, but it sure didn’t work for me as a reader.

Something was amiss. Something wasn’t smooth. Something was raggedy. Even the time capsule/insurance fraud story at the end came across as an afterthought.

The promise of the title is never fulfilled in the book
I kept wishing for the promise of the title to be fulfilled by reading more of the book. Sadly, I was disappointed. I never found satisfaction in the story. The title offered so much; the finality of something; the hint of the last policeman being someone special. But wait, perhaps I have missed the point. Perhaps this author is more sophisticated than I give him credit for being. Perhaps he means, the world is coming to an end but there is one person who still believes in the universality of integrity and morality.

Oh Winters you devil you…how clever! You classic manipulator, you! So even you are saying the world will lose its ethical people more quickly than water pouring out of cracked jar, but one ethical person will always remain.

Bravo Winters…..MAYBE !!

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