The Last Policeman (2012) – Ben H. Winters


This week’s perusal of the Book Shelf brought me this, the first in a trilogy, that combines a whodunnit with some light science fiction.

Not too long from now, an asteroid, Maia, is discovered, way too late to do anything about it, on a direct collision with Earth. They have until the beginning of October.

So, consequently, some of society falls apart, some go out and pursue things they always wanted to do, some can’t hack it and take their lives, and some, well some stick to their jobs.

Enter newly minted Detective Henry Palace. He just caught a suicide in a bathroom of McDonald’s. Just another hanger in a town where that seems to be the exit most people are taking. But something doesn’t sit right with him. Something tells him that Peter Zell was murdered.

The dwindling department he works in thinks he’s chasing ghosts, and that he should just accept that Zell just took his life and that’s all.

But digging up the tiniest of threads start to draw connections between the suicide (or murder?), the asteroid, life insurance, and what people do as the unavoidable end of the world approaches; unstoppable.


Interweaving with his investigation are family problems that Palace is having with his younger sister, Nico, and her bit of a deadbeat husband.

All of it is told from the first-person perspective and what I do like is that everything is there, all laid out, if you pay attention to all the clues.

I like how Winters describes the pre-apocalypse as things start to fall apart, as people leave, as institutions and services begin to crumble, and the way some people just cling to normality as long as they can, whistling past the looming graveyard.

There is mystery, drama, a hint at something larger, that will no doubt be revealed through the course of the trilogy, and there are even a couple of laughs.

The world Winters takes us into is very recognizable as our own, and its troubling to see the ways that some of humanity faces the end of the world, including betting on where the asteroid is going to strike. There are thoughts about what can be done to stop the asteroid, something no one truly believes can be done, and there are rumors and suggestions of other survival plans.

But the central story focuses on Palace’s investigation of Zell, and his single-minded conviction that it was a murder…

This was an entertaining read, and I thin I may dig into the sequels…

Have you read them?

ben winters



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