The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters

Concord, New Hampshire has been suffering under a spate of suicides – all of the victims have hanged themselves, hence the term “hangers” – but no-one particularly cares. It’s just a reflection of the rest of the world. You see, in six months time, 2011GV1 is going to pay us a visit. And 2011GV1 is a world-ending asteroid.

Enter Henry Palace. Palace has wanted to be a detective all his life and now finally has the opportunity. But, given his desire to solve a real mystery, when he decides that one of the hangers, Peter Zell, has been murdered, no-one is inclined to believe him. There’s no evidence to indicate foul play, and, after all – what’s the point of murdering someone when the world’s about to end?

So, is Palace suffering from wishful thinking that he has a genuine whodunit on his hands? Or, now that all of the rules have changed, is there a clever murderer out there, just waiting to strike again…

Quirk Books were nice enough to send me a copy of this new book to review – it’s out in paperback very soon – and it’s the first of a trilogy by Ben H Winters. So, needless to say, the asteroid doesn’t hit during the finale. But when they asked if it was my sort of thing, I was intrigued. Because it’s the sort of set up that can work wonders and produce a little masterpiece of a mystery or can just as likely blow up in your face leaving a nasty mess. It’s a fine line balancing science-fiction (which this is – just about) with the mystery genre.

Oh, this is definitely the first example by the way. Absolutely outstanding, I completely loved it from start to finish and I’m already rueing the fact that there will only be two more in the series.

It’s narrated by Palace, and it’s in the present tense, but that aspect works wonders. In fact, it’s essential, as, although Palace thinks he has a murder to solve, the sense that everyone else, including the reader, has that he’s deluding himself is tangible. If the book was written in the past tense, the tone of the storytelling would indicate which situation is the truth, and I found the is-it-or-isn’t-it-murder aspect a crucial part of the book.

I’m not saying which it is, by the way, as this is a spoiler-free review, but not only was I satisfied, but before the truth was revealed, I had already decided that I was happy with either outcome. And for a die-hard mystery-lover like me, the fact that I would have been (and maybe was) happy with a “it was suicide all along” verdict says a lot about this book.

Palace’s voice is an entertaining narrator – not that he cracks a lot of jokes – but going along with his desperate-at-time hunt of a murder, rather than a murderer makes this book a genuine page-turner.

As such, I won’t touch on the plot at all in this review. The setting, a pre-apocalyptic New England town, is wonderfully realised. This isn’t a tale of shotguns and maddened crowds against a few sensible types, but a well thought out consideration of what would happen. I was especially fond of the decision to introduce the verb “to bucket-list”. It was also a relief that while Palace is the only detective to believe in his murder theory, he’s not the only person who’s still willing to do their job. While there is a feeling of inevitable doom, it feels real – some people have panicked, some people have gone bucket-listing and a lot of people are trudging on with their lives until the asteroid comes a-calling.

Palace’s voice is an entertaining narrator – not that he cracks a lot of jokes – but going along with his desperate-at-time hunt of a murder, rather than a murderer makes this book a genuine page-turner.

As such – this gets the highest recommendation I can give. Buy it. [It’s out on the 10th of July on this side of the pond, by the way.]

Oh, just realised, this can be New Hampshire in my Mystery Tour of the USA! Woo-hoo!

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About Puzzle Doctor

I'm a mathematician by nature and as such have always been drawn to the logical side of things. Hence my two main hobbies being classic mysteries and logical puzzling. Oh, and cats. No logic there, I'm afraid.
This entry was posted in Ben H Winters, Henry Palace, Mystery Tour of the USA. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters

  1. richmcd says:

    This sounds awesome. I’m really looking forward to it. Thanks for drawing it to my attention.

    It looks like Ben has written some other mysteries. They’re aimed at kids, but I’m quite enjoying children’s mystery fiction at the moment so maybe I’ll give those a look as well…

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