I sort of did know. I probably would have said that he was dead, if you’d asked. But I haven’t really had time to think about it. God, you wake up one day and everybody is dead.
Detective Hank Palace is the last policeman. Or at least, he’s the last policeman who cares about solving murders. You see, there’s an asteroid that’s headed straight for the earth, and when it hits, it will devastate the world. Millions will likely die upon impact, many more during the aftermath. So most people don’t see the point in solving murders and enforcing laws. It’s all going to end in six months anyway. But Palace is determined to maintain some form of normalcy, to enforce the law, and to find his killer. Unfortunately for him, there’s a lot standing in his way.
I’ve never been a huge fan of whodunits. The mysteries and plots often seem contrived and cliché. I know I’m criticizing an entire genre and that if I’m honest with myself, I probably don’t like whodunits because I’m bad at solving mysteries. My sister has an uncanny ability to call plot twists and pick out murderers within the first few pages of a book or scenes of a movie. I, on the other hand, flounder through the story jumping quickly from one theory to the next. Either way, I generally find mysteries frustrating and unentertaining. Ben H. Winters’ novel The Last Policeman fits neatly into the whodunit category. It meets all of the requirements and leads you from one suspect to the next, slowly eliminating them until you’re left with the culprit. The person whodunit. And you know what? It was a good book.
The murder Hank Palace is trying to solve drives the story forward through the creepy, near-end of the world society that Winters crafts. Each new lead Palace gets feels right, like this is the one. This will lead us to our criminal. But as he desperately sifts through leads and witnesses and coworkers who just don’t see the point in solving murders, you feel the weight of frustration sitting heavily on his shoulders. This mystery doesn’t feel contrived or cliché, and his story, while fiction, definitely has a very realistic edge to it. At the end of the book, Winters thanks a long list of people: astrophysicists, detectives, forensic scientists. Winters’ research paid off. The scenes in the forensic lab weren’t made up by some oblivious author, and they really help pull you into the story and scenario that Winters brings to life.
The Last Policeman is much more than a simple whodunit. It’s a complicated, insightful critique of society. It’s the perfect mix of humor and grief. It’s a good mystery. It’s a compelling story that doesn’t end on a cliffhanger but still succeeds in making you need the next installment in the series. It’s just a good book. Here’s to Winters and to many more great stories from his quirky mind!