Book Thoughts: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

(**I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

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

Hank Palace, a homicide detective in Concord, New Hampshire, asks this question every day. 

Most people have stopped doing whatever it is they did before the asteroid 2011L47J hovered into view. Stopped selling real estate; stopped working at hospitals; stopped slinging hash or driving cabs or trading high-yield securities. A lot of folks spend their days on bended knee, praying to Jesus or Allah or whoever they think might save them. Others have gone the other way, roaming the streets, enjoying what pleasures they can before the grand finale. Government services are beginning to slip into disarray, crops are left to rot.

When it first appeared, 2011L47J was just a speck, somewhere beyond Jupiter’s orbit. By mid-October it revealed itself to be seven kilometers in diameter, and on a crash course with the Earth. Now it’s March, and sometime in September, 2011L47J will slam into our planet and kill half the population immediately, and most of the rest in the miserable decades that follow.

Today, Hank Palace is working the case of Peter Zell, an insurance man who has committed suicide. To his fellow police officers, it’s just one more death-by-hanging in a city that sees a dozen of suicides every week. But Palace senses something wrong. There’s something odd about the crime scene. Something off. Palace becomes convinced that it’s murder. And he’s the only one who cares.

Usually, I don’t review adult books, but when I got the offer for this book, I couldn’t refuse. The summary was too interesting. This story is based on the fact that there’s an imminent end to life on earth, and the fact that everyone has lost hope. It tells the story of Hank Palace and his interest in a man’s commonplace death, in an alien time when everything but spiritual salvation seems petty in the face of the absolute end.

This book begins in an unusual scene for me—by describing the site of a person’s death, through the eyes of the investigating police officers. The details of the scene, as someone who hasn’t been desensitized by gaudy recreations of crime scenes on CSI and other dramas, was slightly disturbing. However by the second page I was intrigued. When I started this book, I was in a hotel room on vacation; any book that can hold my attention with my family chattering in the background has to be pretty interesting.

One word that comes to mind when I think of this book is ‘intriguing’. The clues and evidence repeatedly went back and forth between what you thought was true and what wasn’t. I’ve read very few books where the protagonist is trying to solve a crime. As a result, I don’t have much of an idea to compare Hank Palace’s work to, but I thought it was pretty intense and realistic.

Still, the mystery of the culprit was a disappointment for me. Halfway through the book I guessed the culprit and never once actually believed it was a suicide. In the end, I was hoping that my guess was wrong; unfortunately, it wasn’t, making this book pretty predictable.

Another word that comes to mind when I think The Last Policeman is ‘scary’. The plot of this novel is interesting, but if you really think about it, it’s not. The idea of an impending asteroid disaster is not exactly good news and could happen to us at any moment. The events that take place in this story are possible, which is why ‘scary’ comes to mind. I think Winters captured the post-asteroid environment and attitude well. Even with the chaos of the investigation, the author doesn’t forget to include the reactions and thoughts of those around the protagonist, which made me even more empathetic/sympathetic towards the characters.

Overall, The Last Policeman is a decent read. Truthfully, I didn’t enjoy the book at the end as much as I had hoped from the beginning. I guess it wasn’t a book for me. But I still suggest you check this book out if you are into investigations and police cases.


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