Sunday, June 23, 2013

L is for The Last Policeman

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters is my submission for the Crime Fiction Alphabet at Mysteries in Paradise this week. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise to check out other entries for the letter L.

Description from the publisher's website (Quirk Books):
The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. Industry is grinding to a halt. Most people have abandoned their jobs. But not Hank Palace. As our story opens, he’s investigating the latest suicide in a city that’s full of suicides—only this one feels wrong. This one feels like homicide. And Palace is the only one who cares. What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die?
This is two books in one. Half the time, the book is describing the inevitable effects that an asteroid heading towards earth is having on the populace. Half the time, the story follows a policeman investigating a crime, as if it has just as much importance now as when everything was normal. Half the time, this reader was considering how foreknowledge of an apocalyptic event would affect me personally, how I would live those last months and why the characters in this book made their choices. The other half of the time, I was reading the book as a straight police procedural. And the book succeeds in both areas.

Detective Hank Palace has just recently been made a detective.  My  theory for why he is so dogged in pursuing the crime (or possible crime) is because this is what he has always wanted to do, and he knows there won't be much time left to do it. Not only is the normal fabric of life falling apart, the police department is decimated. There are fewer employees in any role in the department, and there is very little oversight as to how the job gets done. The other detectives either don't believe the suicide is actually murder, or don't care whether the murder gets caught, or both.

Palace follows normal police procedure where he can. The medical examiner is still working and taking her job seriously, so he does have the resources of some forensics analysis. He does interview coworkers, relatives, witnesses. And he has more leeway because the laws have changed. In some cases, laws are more lax; in other cases, more strict. It affects the investigation.

The detective's character is the most fully developed. His backstory is doled out in pieces, a technique I like. There are other interesting characters who are peripherally involved in the case. The reactions and behaviors of other detectives illustrate the uncertainty that everyone deals with on a daily basis in this environment. The author has done an excellent job of creating his version of what the world could be like in this situation.

Another thing to note: I have had problems in the past adjusting to reading books which use present tense to tell the story. The Last Policeman is the first book using present tense that has been a comfortable read for me. This could be just getting use to the idea, but I credit the author's talented storytelling. It took me a while to even notice.

Other reviews:
My husband's review at Goodreads.
At In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel.
At Crimepieces.



16 comments:

  1. Love this book, and I have an ARC of the second waiting to be read.

    I'm actually a huge fan of the author himself. I read his horror novel, Bedbugs, and love it so much. It's hard to write a good horror novel, but he pulled it off in spades.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ryan, I am eager to read the next one too. I am sure my husband will buy it as soon as it is available, but I don't know if I will read it this year or not.

      I have heard that Bedbugs was good, but don't know that I can deal with horror in a novel.

      Delete
  2. I'm trying to rein in the number of my acquisitions and I don't think your helping very much. I will keep an eye out for this, without proactively hunting it down!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Col, we have the same problem with acquisition of books. When you get around to this one, I bet you will like it.

      Delete
  3. Have you read Chelsea Cain's suspense novels? Her books use present tense as well. Just curious if you've found her work problematic. Present tense doesn't bother me only because I've probably avoided those books you've read that gave you problems. I used to avoid first person POV till I read a book that made me change my mind. So, it's the talent of the writer in most cases. Sorry to go off topic. I've read dozens of reviews of this book and you have me interested. They had the ebook on sale at one point for $2.99. I regret not purchasing it then :-(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Keishon, no problem with off topic. I have not tried Cain. Based on what I read about her books, her writing is good, but I suspect she may be to suspenseful for me. With the present tense thing, maybe I just need time to get used to the idea. And like you said, the talent of the author may make the difference.

      Too bad you missed that opportunity for the good deal on the e-book, but maybe with the 2nd one coming out, they will offer it again. The book is definitely worth reading.

      Delete
  4. Interesting angle on the apocalyptic ends that were popular back in the 1990's.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Scott, thanks for the comment. It got caught in spam for some reason. It looks like apocalyptic novels are big again.

      Delete
  5. I like the crossing of genres and it makes a refreshing change of setting for a mystery. I'm envious that Winters can get the reader look in the metaphorical mirror and make them think about what they would do when faced with the end of the world.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Peter, I agree, I like mystery blended with other genres. I have read several mysteries of that type this year, and have several more I want to try.

      Delete
  6. It is an interesting premise. When everybody is going to die soon, does it matter if one suicide is a homicide? I will look for this book. Thanks for the recommendation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. srivalli, it is an interesting and the author handles it very well. I hope you like the book and I will look forward to your review of it.

      Delete
  7. When I first read about this book I thought it didn't sound my thing at all, but positive reviews like yours make me feel I should give it a chance, especially as it sounds as though you might have said the same as me before you read it. I will get to it eventually....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Moira, that is definitely true. I initially rejected this book and my husband was interested and bought it. He buys new books much more often than I do. Then the reviews started showing up, and I changed my mind. I just did not see how the concept could work, but it does. How he follows through in book 2 will be very interesting.

      Delete
  8. This is a great book. And I'm so looking forward to book 2!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sarah, me too. You and my husband will probably read it before me, but I won't be too far behind. This first one was a quick read for me.

      Delete