This is a series of reviews of my favorite books published between 2010 and 2019.
The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters (2012)
In only a few months, an asteroid will crash into the Earth — an extinction-level event — but police detective Hank Palace is determined to solve his first murder case.
At heart, The Last Policeman is a murder mystery. A police detective discovers a “hanger,” an apparent suicide, in a McDonald’s bathroom, but inconsistencies in the crime scene lead him to believe his hanger is actually a murder. So he sets out to find the murderer, doggedly following the clues where they lead him.
The twist is that all this is happening during humanity’s last days, and everyone knows it. An asteroid is going to slam into the Earth in about six months. This fact overshadows everything that happens in the novel. Police and other necessary services have been depleted, since many people have quit their jobs, going “Bucket List,” while others opt for suicide. A crackdown on certain crimes, especially drug trafficking and terrorism, is approaching martial law. And everyone wonders why Palace is even bothering to solve this murder. Even he wonders that frequently, but yet he keeps pursuing the case obsessively, even when it begins to impact the lives of people close to him.
I thought this novel was very entertaining: a pretty good mystery, a fascinating premise well executed, an interesting narrative voice. The end left me hanging a bit, until I discovered it was only the first installment of a trilogy. I would recommend this for any reader of science fiction or crime who likes to see these genres combined in new ways.