Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

fpo  The world is ending. An asteroid is set to collide with planet earth in six months or so. Some people choose to end their individual world prematurely with suicide. Others continue to hope for a last minute saving grace or take comfort in their religious faith. Some decide that if the world is ending they should make the most of what time they have left, whether that means traveling the world, spending time with loved ones, or taking drugs and smoking cigarettes because at this point there are no consequences tomorrow for today's bad choices. Still others continue to live more or less as they did before the idea of an asteroid colliding into the planet became a definite and certain reality. Police detective Henry Palace falls into the last category.

Palace is called to the scene of a hanging. It presents as a suicide, which in a time where the world is literally about to end, is all too common. No one is interested in investigating a death that appears by all accounts to be a suicide, no one except Palace. Something is off about the crime scene and he can't just let it go. So he starts an investigation in a time when almost everyone is asking, what's the point?

I am in an awesome book group called Mocha Girls Read. We used to have our monthly meetings at Mysterious Galaxy, a bookstore that specializes in mysteries and science fiction. Unfortunately it has since closed its doors in L.A. county. (I believe the flagship store in San Diego is still open.) One day about a year or so ago I asked the guy behind the cash register if he had anything to recommend, book wise. This is unusual for me. I have a ridiculously long TBR list and rarely ask people for more books to add to it. If anything I, the librarian, am usually recommending books to other people. But this time I asked and the guy (sorry I don't remember his name) recommended The Last Policeman. It took me awhile to get to it. In fact the third book in the trilogy was released before I got around to reading book one but I finally read it and I have to say, thank you bookseller, for this was a very good read.

The Last Policeman prevents a very interesting scenario - the coming end of the world. If you know with a fair amount of certainty that the world is going to end in six months what would you do with the rest of your life? What kind of person would you choose to be during those last few months. That's the question The Last Policeman presents (or, at least one of the questions). It's easy to say that you would live it up - quit your job and travel, spend time with loved ones, party, sex it up, whatever, but then again if everyone did that the world would kind of end sooner. I mean someone has to keep growing the food and running the electrical plants during those six months or everyone would die of starvation in the dark. So maybe you keep going as you did before you got the news that humanity was on the brink of extinction. You keep going to work, keep waiting for the light to turn green before crossing, and keep eating your vegetables. At least that's what Detective Palace does. The world is ending but he still believes in right and wrong, and that murderers should be brought to justice even if a life sentence only means six months in prison under current circumstances. It is against this backdrop that Palace tries to figure out what happened to Peter Zell, the man found hanging in the bathroom of a fast food restaurant.

The most interesting thing about this book is not the mystery of who done it, but whether asking that question even matters when everyone is going to die soon anyway. The impending end of the world and the associated fallout really ratcheted up the tension. When the world is ending, one can't help but question every one's motives, including that of the police. On the one hand it is admirable that Palace cares about right and wrong today even when tomorrow isn't coming. On the other hand, when most people have decided screw it and checked out mentally or physically the fact that Henry Palace cares so much about this case stands out as a little odd. Throughout the book I rooted for Palace to solve the case while also wanting him to take a vacation day. I can hardly wait to see what awaits Palace in the next two books. I want to see how he changes, if at all, as the date of impact approaches. Will he still be the same straight and arrow cop as death come closer?

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