The Last Policeman (a review)

by Stefan Slater

It’s book review time!

However, just a quick aside, but I also finished a few other books lately that are worth a quick please-go-ahead-and-pick-this-up mention: “Desperation” by Stephen King, “Y: The Last Man” Volume III and “Private Eye”, both of which are by Brian K. Vaughan. Actually, the latter one is available in a pretty cool way. If you visit you can download a PDF version of the comic for whatever you think is reasonable. $15? $10? .01? Yep, whatever you think is reasonable totally flies, and you can download it as many times as you want. (Although, because the quality of the comic is pretty high, and the storyline is an original noir-ish yarn, I’d recommend that you throw a little something Vaughan’s way).

Ok, but on to “The Last Policeman” by Ben H. Winter.

The book focuses on the question that, if it’s the end of the world, what’s the point in having a policeman solve murders? In “The Last” an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth, and unfortunately both Bruce Willis and Billy Bob Thornton don’t exist in this universe (or at least aren’t mentioned), so humanity is only less than a year away from clocking out for good. As far as the reader knows, the asteroid is going to hit Earth for sure, and there’s absolutely nothing anyone can do about it.

And that’s where Detective Hank Palace comes in. He’s a no-nonsense detective with minimal personal flair or a sense of humor, and he’s considerably more straight edge than a Mormon holding a dozen rulers. However, what he lacks in funny bone development, he makes up for in commitment. He’s dedicated to carrying out his duty as a detective, and he’s absolutely convinced that his first case, a suicide, is actually a murder. At the end of the world, when most people are offing themselves left, right and center, his fellow detectives right off the case as just another suicide, but Captain Commitment has a gut-feeling (which all good cops have, of course) that something just isn’t right.

And there you go–It’s a police procedural story set just before the end of the world. Now there are a couple of weaknesses with this story: For one thing, Hank is all kinds of white bread, vanilla, cookie-cutter cop with minimal feelings or emotions. It’s very hard to appreciate his character, or to really find him relatable. Two, the writing, while clean and well-thought out, lacks any real punch. Everything, from setting description to the character dialogue, feels rather standard and drab. And lastly, this is part of a trilogy, so while Hank solves the case at the end, there isn’t all that much closure concerning the fate of civilization, which felt like a letdown.

However, with that said, there are two things that the book does well, which is why I’m going to recommend it: One, the investigation is actually pretty intriguing. While I felt disconnected from Hank, I felt very involved with the murder-mystery–the idea of killing someone and making it look like a suicide, especially during an end-of-the-world scenario, is a diabolical scheme at its finest. I also didn’t see the end coming either, which made the ride a bit more enjoyable (I’m not much of a mystery guy, so if you are, you might catch on to the ending much sooner, but it caught me by surprise).

And two, the whole premise of trying to live in a world that’s going to end soon is decidedly fresh. It seems like almost every story these days focuses on either the end of the world, or living after the fall. Rarely are we every prompted to ask ourselves, “I have 6 months before the world ends, what am I going to do with my life?” Authors and readers alike are often so engrossed in the idea of survival against all odds, stockpiling supplies and all out “Mad Max”-style apocalyptic battles, that we often forget to look at what life would be like before everything went to hell. What would people do before the fall? How would they act? Would there be riots? Death in the streets? Or would people come together? With that said, what would I do? Would I keep working? Or would I go “find myself”? The novel addresses most of these questions in clever ways, and because of that, it makes it worthwhile to pick up.

“Countdown City,” the sequel, comes out this month, and I should have a review for you sometime soon. Until then, start stockpiling, and I’ll see ya soon.