Note: I received review copies of The Last Policeman and Countdown City from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Important question if you have read the two existing books in the Last Policeman trilogy: Does the meteor actually hit the earth in the third book? Or do they find a way to avoid the impending disaster? I say it’s a cop-out if the meteor doesn’t strike.
The Last Policeman is a series about a man who has always wanted to be a police detective. Just because there is a miles-long meteor heading straight for the Earth to destroy life as we know it doesn’t mean that Henry Palace stops trying to be a police detective. If anything he becomes more determined to solve the problems that get put in front of him. In The Last Policeman, he’s working to find the whys and wherefores of a death that looks like a suicide to everyone but him; in Countdown City (the second book), he’s trying to find a missing person who seems not to want to be found.
Henry Palace is cut from the same cloth as Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye: a guy who, when the big-picture stuff moves beyond his power to control, still can’t stop doing the right thing. To steal the description Fraction always gives of Clint Barton, Henry Palace is a guy who would help you move even when it’s raining outside. He spends the first third of Countdown City worrying about finding a replacement toy for some kids he knows whose toy samurai sword got stolen. Even when he’s angriest with his sister Nico — who’s involved with some conspiracy business that Henry doesn’t want to hear about — he’s thinking of her, worrying about her, and remembering a promise he made to her when they were both children, that he wouldn’t let anything happen to her.
There’s something oddly charming about the narrowness of Henry’s vision. To his mind, the world ending is just another damn thing. It is what it is, and you won’t change anything by complaining about it. Henry is perpetually ignoring the big picture to focus in on what he can handle (see above), which leads to a number of scenes where other characters want to talk about the national and international impact the impending meteor is having, and Henry’s like, Yeah, yeah, yeah, can we get back to solving this crime? This could feel like a cop-out but it actually really doesn’t. I don’t feel that Ben Winters is just trying to avoid having to make up more international stuff (although he may be) — instead I feel like he’s reinforcing an important character beat. This one right here:
People are building rocket ships, people are building tree houses, people are taking multiple wives, people are shooting indiscriminately in public places, people are setting fire to themselves, people are studying to be doctors while doctors quit work and build huts in the desert and sit in them and pray.
None of these things, so far as I know, has happened in Concord. Still, the conscientious detective is obliged to examine the question of motive in a new light, to place it within the matrix of our present unusual circumstance. The end of the world changes everything, from a law-enforcement perspective.
That is emblematic of the way Henry approaches his new life: It’s much the same as his old life, with some crucial differences. Henry’s an excellent character with whom to while away the hours while you’re waiting for the world to end. If you haven’t read these books yet, now’s your time! The third book’s out in July, so you won’t have long to wait to read the thrilling (one hopes) conclusion.