Sunday, October 6, 2013

Book Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

My rating: 4.75/5

From Amazon: "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 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?"

I haven't been this excited to read the rest of a series in a really long time.  I loved this book.  It's fantastically real, with a nice, even mix of down-to-earth and imaginative description. It really makes you think 'yeah, that probably is how people would act during impending worldwide doom.' Shirley Jackson's 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle' came close to this level of book love for me, especially in how often I stopped to read passages out loud to my husband.  But this book went beyond that; I had to keep updating him on what was going on in the book even without having particular passages to relay.  It's also the first book in a really long time that I already want to re-read.

I don't know that I've ever read a book with such a calmly, unassumingly passionate protagonist. Katniss in 'The Hunger Games' comes close, but Palace goes much farther, and I loved the character for it. The reader really sympathizes with him too, without any description or emotion being shoved down your throat, ever. I rarely cry because of a book, but one small passage here, which doesn't flat-out say why his boss calls him 'kid' but only subtly implies it... I couldn't help it. His background is heartbreaking, and you only slowly learn about it throughout the book. It's beautifully done. 

I only had two small complaints, which are why I didn't give it a straight 5 (but pretty darn close). First off, the beginning is slow and Palace is a difficult character to grasp at first, to the point that I almost quit reading the book after the first few chapters. I'm definitely happy I didn't, and without going back and re-reading the book (yet), I'm not sure if all of that was just me for some reason or if it's how the writing is at the start of the book. Either way, if you start the book and don't like it at first, keep reading. It's awesome.  Second, it's possible I missed something in the book, especially since after I thought about not finishing it, I set it aside for a week or so; but I'm confused why insurance companies were paying out to the families of people who had committed suicide. I thought that was generally an automatic deal-breaker, but I might just be wrong about that, or there may have been something that explained this.  But as far as my complaints go, I wasn't offended by them, and the rest of the book far outweighs the bad.

Because of the drug use and violence (neither of which are put in a good light), as well as the rare sex and swearing (which aren't particularly put in a bad light but aren't over the top), I'd recommend this book for high school and older.  And I would recommend the heck out of it.

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