The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters

Rating 9.0/10
A lovely little book with its inherent charm and fresh approach.

Fantasy Book Review Book of the Month, March 2013

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

The Last Policeman is a lovely little book which, with its inherent charm and fresh approach to the dystopian theme, won me over early and kept me in thrall until the very end.

The post-apocalyptic/dystopia genre has always appealed to me greatly; not, I think, because I revel in the destruction of the world and the descent of its inhabitants into barbarity but because the themes explored fascinate me and show just how fragile civilization truly is. Many of the books I have read in the genre (The Road, The Stand, and Swan Song for example) deal mainly with the aftermath of a cataclysmic event (killer virus, super volcanic eruption, and nuclear war) but The Last Policeman differs from these works in that it focuses entirely on the effects to human behaviour before the comet hits, before the terrible event that will create a world unfit for human habitation.

As I have already mentioned, it is the human behaviour and how they react and cope in a world returning to savagery that holds my interest and Winters shows the social and economic infrastructure breaking down in a variety of plausible ways: Employees are quitting their jobs to either spend more time with their families or to do the things they have always dreamed of doing. There is a scarcity of fuel and food, electricity supply and mobile reception are sporadic as those tasked with providing these once-considered basics join the exodus. And suicide has become so unexceptional that the limited police force that remain no longer feels the inclination to investigate each increasingly frequent occurrence. Enter Detective Hank Palace. Hank has recently been promoted and when he is called to a probable suicide in the toilet of a McDonalds it seems like an open and shut case. But something about the case does not sit well with him, he firmly believes that a murder has been committed and he must somehow work with a police force and society that no longer cares in order to bring the murderer to justice.

The Last Policeman makes for compelling reading, there is a pleasant feel of detective noir infused into proceedings and I struggle to remember many investigators sporting moustaches in the times between Magnum PI and Hank Palace. Winters instils his book with a grand sense of melancholy and his characters display the sadness and defeatism one would expect under the circumstances. I felt richer for reading this intriguing mix of murder mystery and dystopia and highly recommend The Last Policeman to fans of either genre.

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