If you like your mysteries bleak, then it doesn’t get much bleaker than following a man trying to do his job when he and everyone around him knows that an asteroid will hit the earth and wipe out humanity in a matter of months. Ben H. Winters’s The Last Policeman combines a police procedural with a dystopian tale of humanity’s reaction to its certain demise with aplomb.
Detective Hank Palace is a wonderful character. A new detective, Palace takes his job seriously. Others are retiring early, going after their Bucket List or drinking on the job, but Detective Palace does not let the knowledge of the end of the world get in the way of the work he has come to love.
But Concord, New Hampshire is a hanger town–in other words, a place where the frequent end-of-the-world inspired suicides are committed via hanging. Detective Palace has already seen his fair share.
And something makes Detective Palace think that the man he finds hanged in a McDonald’s bathroom might be murder. Palace delves into the life of Peter Zell, actuary and overall loner, with a zeal for finding out the truth. Even as Palace is told that there is no evidence that Zell isn’t just another hanger, he persists.
The Last Policeman is a surprisingly delightful read despite its bleak undertones. There is something buoying in the knowledge that someone like Detective Hank Palace could exist in his clear-headed, good-hearted pursuit of justice even when there is no reward, no reason for him to exist in a world on the brink of extinction. The sequel, Countdown City, is already available and just won a Philip K. Dick Award. The third, World of Trouble, will be out in mid-July. I guarantee that once you start spending time with Hank Palace, you won’t want to stop.