Countdown City by Ben H Winters

Asks the questions that every good work of dystopia should.
Countdown City book cover

Book of the Year 2013 (see all)

Countdown City is the second book in Ben H Winter's Last Policeman trilogy, and it follows on from the events that unfolded in the 2013 Edgar Award winning The Last Policeman.

Meeting up once again with Hank Palace felt just like welcoming back an old friend. His first person narrative is nicely understated and he makes for an engaging but unobtrusive lead. This second instalment in Winters trilogy is set three months before the deadly asteroid 2011GV1 is due to hit Earth. The Concord Police Department is now operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, and Hank is out of a job. When his former babysitter beseeches him to find her missing husband Hank's search leads him to a visibly collapsing East Coast landscape where anti-immigrant militia patrol the shores, fending off droves of people fleeing the impact zone of the asteroid. And it isn't long before Hank's missing-person case turns into a murder investigation…

Winters has produced another compelling dystopian thriller that benefits greatly from its inherent charm. He is an author that is equally comfortable with both male and female characterisation and this leads to a nicely balanced story populated by realistic people. What I like about Countdown City is that while it shows a world that is without doubt going to pot, it is currently still a way from falling apart completely - and the bizarre combination of mass suicides, those fulfilling their bucket-list objectives and those simply trying to carry on as normal (like Hank) make for a peculiarly believable vision of what would actually occur under these circumstances.

Hank Palace is a rather ordinary man with a touch of the obsessive compulsive about him. He is another contrast that works well and the ordinariness of Palace, when set against the less than ordinary asteroid that is soon to wipe humankind off the planet, works really, really well. There are similarities with the first book with Palace trying to carry out an investigation to the incredulity of those around him. And as well as the missing person/murder investigation there is also an interesting sub-plot involving his sister Nico, who has become embroiled with a group of conspiracy theorists who believe the asteroid is a cover-up and that they can truly save the world.

Countdown City explores themes and asks the questions that every good work of dystopia should: How would people behave? What would happen to society? Would shops stay open? Would food be easily available? Simply put, how long would it be before civilization completely broke down? But the question that I think is most pertinent for each individual reader is: What would you do under these circumstances?

The first two books in this trilogy have been excellent and I'm looking forward to book three.

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