By Ben Winters
The Last Policeman is a murder mystery set in a pre-apocalypse Earth – an asteroid has been discovered that will hit Earth and most likely destroy all of humanity in six months. Lots of people commit suicide (which I don’t understand; maybe this is my laziness speaking, but why bother if the Earth is going to shortly do it for you?) and lots of people have abandoned their homes and jobs in order to fulfill their bucket lists. Our protagonist, Henry Palace, however, was a beat cop who was promoted to detective after enough of the detectives quit or died. He has always wanted to be a detective, and so is very dedicated, driving everyone else crazy with his scrupulous attention to detail and his eagerness to actually investigate a death that he claims is suspicious and everyone else says is yet another suicide.
There are spots of humor (all the McDonald’s and Duncan Donuts have closed, but Panera is still running strong, albeit as a religious organization), but the overall tone of the novel is definitely dark. The world is completely topsy-turvy with internet and cell service collapsing, most major corporations shutting down, and just about every other job, including the government, depending on a skeleton crew of dedicated employees. Inflation is through the roof, of course, though I was confused that there was any monetary economy at all, actually. The people, too, are all different levels of crazy, with depression and drug use way up, naturally, making tracking down motives and following rational clues particularly difficult.
One of my favorite things about the book is that, through showing instead of telling, I am fairly sure that both the detective and the victim are on the milder side of the Autism spectrum. It is cool to see that (possible) representation laid out so matter-of-factly. Separate from that aspect, however, there were the occasional times when I wondered about an unreliable narrator. He isn’t unaffected by the coming doom, either, and there are definitely times when I wondered whether he purposefully twisting the truth to make his case better match the cases he’d hoped he’d be working on as a detective.
This is the first in a trilogy, and I definitely plan to read the next two, so I’ll report on those when I get to them. Rebecca asked me how there can be three if the world only has six months to go, but this book only spanned a month. I wondered, though, if something unforeseen happens and the asteroid does not hit, how do you rebuild after all of Earth’s societies have been living as though it is the end of times?