By Ben H. Winters
She’s shouting, advancing across the room, the barrels of the semiautomatics aimed at my face like twin black holes. I turn my head to the wall, scared to die, even now, even today.
If the first two books in Winters’ Last Policeman trilogy were good and exciting, then World of Trouble is the crux of the fun. (They were, and it is.) In the first two books, the world has been approaching the end of its days, facing the catastrophic asteroid with rations, bucket lists, and mild indifference. The goal is to survive and make the most of what you have left. But in the last book, time’s up. One week ’til impact, and the world has gone to pieces. Henry Palace, the last policeman, has been pushed to the edge by the world’s impending doom, and his manic desperation to solve one last case propels the frenzied currents of this series’ final installment.
Henry is on an impossible mission to find Nico Palace, his younger sister. She bought into a conspiracy theory about nuclear missiles and the capability to destroy the asteroid and is now part of a rogue group on a Hail Mary mission to save Earth. Henry let her go, but as days run out, he can’t bear to watch the world end without seeing her one last time. It’s foolish and unlikely, but Henry is desperate and the world is ending anyway.
There’s something about a manic character that really gets under your skin and comes to life in your mind. The way they balance so precariously on an edge, waiting to be tipped one way or the other. Palace has always been a straight-laced character. Always does what’s right, always keeps a level head. To see him chasing this dream with his tattered scruples flapping in the wind is both fascinating and a bit sobering. It raises the questions, “How long would you have lasted? When would you have cracked under the pressure of oblivion?” World of Trouble is indeed about the end of the world, but it’s also about so much more. Henry is a sharp protagonist, full of probing questions and biting retorts about humanity’s courage, motivation, and values. We think we have a pretty good grasp on those in a perfect world, but what do they look like in a world that’s ending? As Winters points out in his novel–probably very, very different.
Winters writes great mysteries and compelling characters. His prose is sharp, fast-paced, and exciting. Full of wit and original scenarios, his stories are far from empty-headed, and I’d say this one takes the cake. I devoured the book in two solid reading sessions, barely summoning the strength to set it down at 1:00 in the morning. Winters’ unique combination of apocalyptic psychology, cultural critique, and thrilling mysteries in World of Trouble sure makes for a fun ride.