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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review of THE LAST POLICEMAN by Ben H. Winters

3.5 Stars
Maia, a gigantic asteroid, is approaching and will collide with Earth on October 3.  Though its point of impact is unknown, the asteroid is so large that its collision will have planet-wide effects; much, if not all, of the world’s population will be killed.  Governments have enacted strict new emergency laws as societal structures start to fall apart.

In March, six months before Maia’s arrival, Detective Henry Palace of the Concord, New Hampshire, police department, is called to the site of an apparent suicide.  Though new on the job, he quickly becomes convinced that Peter Zel’s death was the result of murder, not suicide.  He continues the investigation even though his colleagues are convinced Zel was just another “hanger” who, like so many other people faced with possible extinction, opted to die at his own hands. 

Of course the question at the centre of the book is “What is the point of solving cases, even murder cases, when it seems that everyone may soon die anyway?”  Many people have become “hangers” by choosing to kill themselves; others have “gone bucket list,” leaving responsibilities to chase their dreams.  Many of those who continue working do so only because they lack sufficient funds to financially survive until Maia’s arrival.  There are others, however, who love their jobs and feel a sense of moral responsibility to continue their work. 

Henry falls into this last category.  He always wanted to be a detective, and because many investigators have abandoned their positions, Henry was promoted into his dream job.  Though he is living in a pre-apocalyptic world, he is determined to find some justice for Peter Zel.  His determination can be admired but it comes at a great cost to others.  His investigation has a lot of collateral damage, so his insensitivity is sometimes cruel.  For instance, he demands the coroner perform an autopsy though, as a consequence, she misses her daughter’s music recital.  People end up losing jobs because Henry insists Peter’s boss find some files. 

It is the characterization of Henry that is a strong element in the book.  He is young and inexperienced and so makes mistakes.  He is not the stereotypical great detective; he solves the case just by being methodical.  He is capable of compassion, yet at other times is cruel in the choices he makes.  He has a tendency to be judgmental.  In other words, he is a very human protagonist. 

The story is narrated in first person point of view.  As a result, suspense is created because the reader knows only what Henry knows.  Towards the end, however, it becomes aggravating when Henry speaks repeatedly of having figured out the identity of the murderer, but he doesn’t reveal who it is.  It’s a reality show technique where one has to wait for the big reveal. 

This is the first of a trilogy; the other titles are Countdown City and World of Trouble.  The murder case is conclusively solved, but a subplot involving Henry’s sister Nico is open-ended.  I will definitely continue reading the series.