Book Review: The Last Policeman
Plot: What's the point in solving murders if we're all going to die? Detective Hank Palace has asked this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. Several kilometers wide, it's on a collision course with planet Earth, with just six precious months until impact. 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? The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman offers a story we've never read before: A police procedural set on the brink of an apocalypse. What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?
Our Take: The Last Policeman is published by Quirk Books who are responsible for PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, the mash-up that started the craze of classic literature combined with genre fiction. THE LAST POLICEMAN comes from author Ben H. Winters, who got his start with SENSE AND SENSIBILITY AND SEA MONSTERS. Since that novel, Winters turned in the excellent BEDBUGS which was published right at the height of the epidemic of insects in New York City a few years ago. Both of those books showed Winters has a knack for tension and does not take genre writing for granted. What could have been throwaway assignments from a publisher instead became quite enjoyable reads.
Now with THE LAST POLICEMAN, Winters takes his skills to another sub-genre: apocalyptic fiction. With television series like FALLING SKIES and THE WALKING DEAD as well as the movies 2012, THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW, RESIDENT EVIL and others capitalizing on the resurgence in popularity of end of the word stories, Winters could have easily written another easy story using the typical tropes for the genre. But, once again, Winters is doing something a little different.
THE LAST POLICEMAN is not post-apocalyptic but rather pre-apocalyptic. Much like the recently released film SEEKING A FRIEND FOR THE END OF THE WORLD, the novel follows the last months leading up to an asteroid colliding with Earth and ending all life on the planet. He combines that idea with the classic noir detective novel to create a wholly unique read.
Unlike the pulp fiction detectives on the old days, THE LAST POLICEMAN's Hank Palace is new to the detective job. While all those around him are throwing their hands to the sky and quitting their daily lives, Palace continues to investigate the crimes around the city. As I started to read the novel, I wondered why anyone would care about crimes or solving murders if everything will be gone within the year. If I had six months left to live, why would I bother doing my daily job? Questions like these haunt THE LAST POLICEMAN, giving it an existential quality that is sorely missed from similar fiction.
Winters imbues the novel with a feeling of hope, as if somehow the solving of these murders could prevent the asteroid from destroying the planet. Being touted as the first in a trilogy, maybe there will be some way to avert disaster. THE LAST POLICEMAN does not read like a book set up for two sequels. It works perfectly well as a stand alone novel but I guarantee that when you get to the end that you will be begging to read another Hank Palace story.
Would it make a good movie: This being a movie website, we have to discuss the potential for this book to be made into a movie. The verdict is, yes this would be a great movie, with some caveats.There are a lot of good things in this novel that would work on the big screen. The impending doom of the asteroid certainly puts a weight on the action which could easily make a movie too dour for general audiences. For a big budget Hollywood film, I would think the asteroid would have to somehow be stopped within the first film for a studio to move forward with it. But, if the film were financed as an independent, the doom and gloom could be used to their full potential as in the novel. There would not be a need for major special effects seeing as this is a detective novel through and through. This is not ARMAGEDDON meets CHINATOWN. I envision this more like CHILDREN OF MEN meets CHINATOWN.
Quirk Books does a great job of putting together trailers for their books which give you a nice visual feel for where the movie version could go. Check out the trailer for THE LAST POLICEMAN below.
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