Frightful Friday: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

July 20, 2012 Frightful Friday, Mystery/Suspense, Quirk Books, Review 2

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week.


This week’s featured book is The Last Policeman by Ben Winters:

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books (July 10, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 1594745765
  • Source: Publisher

If the world was going to end in a matter of months, what is the point of having a police force? Of investigating a murder?

Concord, New Hampshire. On April 9th, a 6.5-kilometer-diameter asteroid known as Maia is predicted to crash into the Earth, causing devastation across the entire planet. Scientists have yet to know exactly where Maia will hit Earth but bets have already begun to come in, countries speaking up as to how they expect to respond. Society has changed in the meanwhile, people have quit their jobs to spend the rest of their short life on the beach or some other scenic location. Chain restaurants like McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts no longer exist. OPEC shut down the production of oil so gasoline is no longer being produced. Not surprising, the number of suicides have increased dramatically.

Known as “hangers” due to their method of suicide, these cases are picking up steadily as the date approaches. Detective Hank Palace is one of the few policeman remaining on the job, many have retired, not seeing the point in protecting a society doomed to end. One morning, he is investigating another potential hanging. He sees a dozen suicides in a week yet this one, the victim a 38-year-old insurance agent by the name of Peter Zell, feels different. His coworkers (and pretty much everyone around him) thinks Peter is wasting his time. The medical examiner has already ruled it a suicide yet Palace can’t get over this feeling in the back of his mind. Yet another question keeps popping up in his mind as well: what is the point of investigating a murder if everyone is going to die in a few months?

The first book in a new trilogy, The Last Policeman is a unique marriage of pre-apocalyptic fiction and police procedural. Winters excels at not only producing a compelling murder case that must be solved, but in doing so also examines the way society has responded to this catastrophic inevitability.

Hank Palace is one of the few individuals who still have a sense of hope, a need to keep the norm up and running, despite the fate that has been dealt to them. The world Winters conveys is a completely realistic (thereby terrifying) glimpse at how our country would run in the face of chaos.

A sub-plot flowing through the novel involves Palace’s sister, Nico, and her involvement in a underground group of rebels that seem to think the government knows more about the destination of the asteroid than it is leading on.  This story-line doesn’t come to a nice and tidy finish at the end of the novel, insinuating it will continue in the subsequent books in this trilogy.

Bottom line: this unique mash-up is certain to grab the attention of readers of all varieties. I, myself, am impatiently awaiting the next book in this series.  Highly recommended. Check back tomorrow for a special giveaway!

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