Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bookish Thoughts: The Last Policeman Trilogy by Ben H. Winters

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
Quirk Books, 2012
Crime Fiction; 316 pgs

Opening Sentence ~ I'm staring at the insurance man and he's staring at me, two cold gray eyes behind old-fashioned tortoiseshell frames, and I'm having this awful and inspiring feeling, like holy moly this is real, and I don't know if I'm ready, I really don't.
From the Publisher: 
What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?

Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.

The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.

The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman offers a mystery set on the brink of an apocalypse. As Palace’s investigation plays out under the shadow of 2011GV1, we’re confronted by hard questions way beyond “whodunit.” What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?

Many thanks to Nancy from Bookfoolery for recommending this book to me.  It was such an enjoyable read and I just love Detective Hank Palace, the main character.  Harry Dresden will have to share me.  I have a new literary crush now.

Everyone has a different way of coping in stressful situations.  For Detective Palace, his method of coping is to focus not on the stressful situation (the coming asteroid and possibly the end of the world) but rather to focus on something more immediate, that of his case. In fact, Hank does not want to talk about the asteroid at all if he can help it.

While the main plot line in the novel is Hank's investigation into the murder of an insurance man, the book, to me, seemed to be more about how Hank and the people around him were coping and living with impending doom.  Ben H. Winters has painted a very clear picture of the panic and terror a society might face in a similar or the same situation.  I admit to having a hard time believing things would go to hell so quickly, but, that aside, I was pulled into Winters' world immediately and didn't want to put the book down.  I also really liked the depth Winters put into many of his side characters and their varying situations.  

As Hank tries hard to prove to himself and to those around him that the insurance man was murdered and that his death wasn't just another suicide, he also has to deal with his sister and her problems.  She calls him when her husband goes missing, and while Hank would like nothing more than to just stick with his case, his sister talks him into helping her.  

For being a pre-apocalyptic book, The Last Policeman did have a few humorous moments, which added levity to the more serious side of it.  I am eager to dive into Countdown City, the second book in the trilogy.



Countdown City by Ben H. Winters
Quirk Books, 2013
Crime Fiction; 316 pgs

Opening Sentence ~ "It's just that he promised," says Martha Milano, pale eyes flashing, cheeks flushed with anxiety.

I am still in love with Hank Palace.  In the second installment of the trilogy, we find Hank out of a job.  Despite his reluctance to take on the case, Hank gives in to his former babysitter's request to find her missing husband.  Like so many others since news of the asteroid's coming, it is most likely her husband is off to fill some bucket list request or perhaps he met another woman.  Or committed suicide.

Hank sets out to find the missing husband, just the same, hitting the streets in a time when computers and cell phones are almost obsolete. His investigation takes him into dark and desperate places, where he meets people from all walks of life, each doing what they can to survive.

In Countdown City, the reader sees the continuation of civilization falling to pieces under threat of destruction.  Winters, again here, does an amazing job of capturing an array of responses to such a situation, his characters raw and desperate, good and bad.

Hank continues to be a rock, persistent in his task, almost single minded in his goal to find the husband.  He nearly always takes the higher moral ground, which is another reason I admire him. He's trying to hang on to decency and responsibility.  Something that seems to be deteriorating rapidly around him.

During his investigation, always taking detailed notes, Hank enlists the help of his estranged sister, Nico who is more than willing to give her brother a hand.  She has her own agenda, of course, and Hank doesn't like it at all.  It is clear the two love each other, and Hank wants so much for his sister to be safe.  She has always been a free spirit, and Hank knows he cannot control or contain her.

Can I just say poor Hank?  He goes through so much in Countdown City.  He went through a lot in The Last Policeman too.  But, really.  Ouch!

Countdown City was just as good The Last Policeman.  Even those who do not generally read pre-apocalyptic books but who like mysteries might enjoy this trilogy.


World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters
Quirk Books, 2014
Crime Fiction; 319 pgs

Opening Sentence ~ "Are you here about the dust?"

Will the asteroid hit?  How will Hank fare?  What about his dog, Houdini?  These were just some of the questions that went through my mind as I started reading World of Trouble, the third book in The Last Policeman Trilogy.  With less than two weeks until the asteroid is supposed to hit, we find Hank in Ohio, making camp in a police station where he believes his sister once stayed.  It has been awhile since he last saw her, and he is determined to find her, to make amends, and to spend his last days with her.  Coming along with him is a former thief, Cortez, who is both cunning and violent.  Cortez is a resourceful man to have around in the end times, but, like Hank, I wasn't sure I could trust him.
From the Publisher: 
There are just 14 days until a deadly asteroid hits the planet, and America has fallen into chaos. Citizens have barricaded themselves inside basements, emergency shelters, and big-box retail stores. Cash is worthless; bottled water is valuable beyond measure. All over the world, everyone is bracing for the end. 
But Detective Hank Palace still has one last case to solve. His beloved sister Nico was last seen in the company of suspicious radicals, armed with heavy artillery and a plan to save humanity. Hank's search for Nico takes him from Massachusetts to Ohio, from abandoned zoos and fast food restaurants to a deserted police station where he uncovers evidence of a brutal crime. With time running out, Hank follows the clues to a series of earth-shattering revelations.
Down to his last page of his notebook, himself hanging by a thread, Hank will do anything to find his sister. He is met with hostility and violence as well as kindness along his journey.  No matter what, he will get the answers he needs.  He has to.  Hank changes over the course of the novel, however, he never loses his sense of decency and need to do the right thing.  He grows harder and more resourceful.  He takes more risks.

In World of Trouble, the end is near and the desperateness and fear are even more at the forefront than they were in previous books.  Even Hank is feeling it, despite his manic persistence in finding out what's happened to his sister.  It is sad to say how true to reality I imagine some of what Winters' writes about in his book would be if we really were facing the end the world.  The chaos and violence, the selfishness and greed. And yet there is also the softer side--how people are willing to help each other.  The trilogy offers an interesting case study on human behavior.

The ending.  Just that.  I have nothing else to say about it.  At least not without spoiling anything.

I liked each book in the trilogy equally, but for different reasons.  This one hit me harder emotionally. Maybe because of the heightened tension, but I think that is only part of it.  It was more about the personal nature of Hank's investigation, the search for his sister and everything that follows. There is one scene in the book in which an entire family is sitting on the roof of their house, together, waiting to see if the asteroid will hit.  I think that would be me and my family.  Or perhaps my husband would convince me to wait it out in a bunker, hoping for the best.

While I think a reader can jump in at any point and read a satisfactory mystery (and the author does a good job setting up each book, including the necessary back story in the later books), I truly feel this is a series best read in order.  The overreaching themes and story line are an important part of what makes this trilogy as good as it is.  I think readers trying to read the books as stand alones will miss out on the greater experience.

Rating: * (Very Good +)

You can learn more about Ben H. Winters and his books on the author's website.

Source: I received copies of all three books from the publisher for my honest review.   I also purchased e-copies of the book with my own money.


© 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

24 comments:

  1. I read the first book and liked it but didn't love it the way other people have. I'm beginning to think I need to revisit the series.

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    1. Kathy - If you do decide to pick up the series again, I hope you find you like it better. I can see how it might not be for everyone.

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  2. I've read so many rave reviews about this series that I know I MUST read them. Thanks for the lovely review, Wendy! :)

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    1. Melody - It's such a great trilogy. I hope you do read them!

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  3. I have also seen a lot of reviews for this trilogy out there and it looks really good. Yours is persuasive - especially because Harry Dresden is also on my list of literary crushes! I need to get the first one.

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    1. Meghan - Hank and Harry are very different, don't get me wrong. But I do like them both quite a bit. :-)

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  4. I haven't seen much about this series but it sounds interesting. I like that it seems like the whole trilogy is strong though it definitely sounds like Hank has quite a time of it. I like that you reviewed the trilogy as a whole. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Katherine - Poor Hank. He goes through so much in the series. I really enjoyed the books though.

      I find I like to review trilogies together when I can. I worry so much about spoilers and I figure this is a way to try to limit them somewhat, you know? Plus, people can read all the reviews or just the first one if they want.

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  5. I have listened to the first two books on audio, and am waiting for my library to get the third. I really like the series. The "mystery" itself isn't really the point, it is more about how humanity is dealing with their impending destruction. Fascinating! And Palace is quirky, almost on the spectrum. Definitely a unique protagonist.

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    1. Sandy - I find the books fascinating too. I do love them! I'll be curious to know what you think of the final book when you have a chance to get to it.

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  6. Good that you enjoyed all the books in the trilogy even if it was for very different reasons.

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    1. Tracy - It's a strong trilogy and each books holds its own, I felt. :-)

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  7. I debated and decided against the first one, figuring it would be too depressing, but the more reviews I read, the more interesting it sounds! Love the sound of Hank Palace.

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    1. Jenclair - It is a dark series overall, and not always the most hopeful, if you know what I mean. I like the writing though and the way the author deals with the subject matter.

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  8. This series has been on my wish list for a while. It sounds like I should push it up to the top. :-) Thanks for the great reviews!

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    1. Irene - I hope you like the trilogy when you get to it. It's worth it!

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  9. This sounds like a nice trilogy and it's always fun finding a literary crush. The pre-apocalypse theme sounds good. The main reason I enjoy apocalypse stories so much is that you get to see people's true characters in stories like this.

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    1. Naida - I wasn't sure I would like it at first, but the more I heard about the first book, the more curious I got. I'm glad I took a chance on the trilogy.

      Like you, I'm drawn to the look into human behavior that books like this often delve into. It can be quite revealing.

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  10. I only read the first book and need to get the next two. I'm thinking of rereading the first one and following it up immediately with the next two. I think this will be one of my favorite trilogies.

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    1. Athira - I read the three pretty close together, with a book or two in between. I am glad I did.

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  11. I really loved this whole series. I thought book 2 was a weak point but really the whole thing was great. The ending was beautiful. And your review is perfect!

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    1. Marie - I am glad you loved it too! I agree about the ending.

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  12. Ok, Wendy, I sort of skimmed the last two reviews just in case I do pick up this series. I like the setting and would like to give it a try! And, yay, for finding a new literary crush. How fun.

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    1. Iliana - I think you might like these books, Iliana, and hope you do give them a try. I'd love to hear your perspective on them.

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