Monday, February 11, 2013

The Last Policeman by Ben Winters

I like my eggs runny and my detectives hardboiled. My women mysterious. And my disaster scenarios pre-apocalyptic. So when this oddball noir The Last Policeman walked its way into my hands, I forgot about the past and thought again about the future. Our future. The one that doesn’t exist.

Six months. That’s all we have until this asteroid collides with the earth. Live life like you’re dying? Hell, now we all are. Hedonism, apathy, suicide—these all seem like logical responses. And then there’s Hank Palace. Still working like he’s trying to impress someone. Still investigating. Still obsessed with "the perseverance in this world, despite it all, of things done right" (84). The rest of us, if we were even still coming to work, would have just written it off as another suicide. Easy. Done. But not Palace. Something drives that kid, something in his past, something buried deeper than the hole that asteroid is going to make.

And you knew a woman would walk in, looking like she does, and complicate things. They always do. The end of the world changes everything, but not that. And you knew it would go somewhere, this not-quite-a-suicide, somewhere dark, somewhere bigger than all of us.

This author, this Ben Winters, he’s onto something here. Taking the detective genre and mixing it with the complicated motives of a world about to end. Makes our job harder, doesn’t it? Just when you think you understand human motivation, a big “ball of carbon and silicates” turns you into a rookie again. As Palace says, "...the conscientious detective is obliged to examine the question of motive in a new light, to place it within the matrix of our present unusual circumstances. The end of the world changes everything, from a law-enforcement perspective" (115) Winters says the story isn’t over; the next report is due in July. I’ll be waiting. I like this kid Palace. He’ll make a good detective some day. As long as there’s still a world to detect.

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