THE LAST POLICEMAN by Ben H. Winters

Publisher: Quirk Publishing
Pub date: 5/13/2013

Some guys are just wired differently than others. You know what I mean. Like your neighbor that’s out there in the middle of a blizzard, shoveling his driveway, even though he knows he’s just going to have to shovel it again in a few hours? He’s the guy that, when asked why he’s out battling a blizzard will reply, “Because it has to get done.”

Detective Henry Palace is that guy. Only instead of shoveling against a blizzard, he is facing a different force of nature. Palace is the determined lawman out to solve his case in the shadow of Armageddon. Earth has six months to go before asteroid 2011GV1 slams into it. And it’s against the shadow of impending doom that Ben H. Winters presents the first book of his fascinating trilogy.

Winner of the Edgar award for Best Paperback Original, THE LAST POLICEMAN truly is one of the most original mysteries this reviewer has come across. While post-apocalypse stories are huge in movies and TV now, this is a story about impending doom. This is a “pre-apocalypse” story. A doom that is totally, completely unavoidable. The asteroid is still six months out, millions of miles out in space, but its approach is slowly destroying society. People have stopped showing up to work, having “gone bucket list.” Basic utilities like cell phone service is getting spotty; no one is taking care of anything.

Because people just don’t care. And when people don’t care, society breaks down. A run-of-the-mill suicide is discovered in a McDonald’s bathroom, and everyone writes it off without further investigation. But not Detective Palace. Palace investigates further because he takes pride in being a policeman. Quickly running out of time, resources, and basic department assistance (because “who cares?”) Palace digs deeper and deeper into the case of Peter Zell, lonely insurance man and apparent suicide victim.

Told in his distinctive voice, Ben H. Winters gives us a hero that could have been a cardboard cutout of a hero. A less talented author would easily fall into the trap of writing “Why do you care who killed this guy, Palace?” “Because I’m a policeman, that’s why.” Three hundred plus pages of this would get old quick. But Winters fills out Palace’s back-story in such a way, that not only do we avoid needless exposition, but his inner monologue becomes the main driver of the story, not the who-done-it or even the asteroid on the horizon. Palace is a fully formed hero. He’s not a robot. He’s a man that takes pride in his work. A man that takes pride in being a policeman.

Being a native of the frozen wastelands of Minnesota, I’ve tried shoveling in a blizzard. It ended quickly with me peeling off a wet coat and hat. I lost a moon boot in drift that day. The neighbor guy came over with his snow blower the next morning and all was well. If Palace doesn’t solve the murder, no one will. There isn’t a neighbor who gives a damn to help him. And it’s six months till Doomsday.

Dan Malmon