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Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

Countdown City (The Last Policeman, #2)Premise: It is now seventy-seven days until an asteroid will collide with Earth, and society has continued to break down. Hank Palace is no longer a detective, now that the U.S. Department of Justice police state has been put into place anticipating the coming apocalypse. People continue to die or go missing, but for some strange reason Hank has agreed to go in search of Brett Cavatone, the husband of Hank’s old babysitter. Brett has disappeared and there is no way of knowing where he is. There are still people leaving behind everything they have in order to spend their last days however they want, and there are also those who want to see the end on their own terms.

With the aid of Nico, his sister, and his police friends still on the force, along with the unlikeliest of helpers, Hank learns where Brett might have gone, but it still doesn’t mean he is alive. Even if he is, does Brett want to go back? And as the impact date approaches, Hank learns of a plot to potentially change the outcome of the world. But there are those who would have it another way.

Themes: In a world facing the end of existence, Countdown City takes a sweeping look at how people respond to disaster, but in the context of living in a world with other people. It zooms in on various reactions to the circumstances as humanity copes with impending doom. Most importantly, it posits revealing shades of how people treat each other, especially in times of crisis.

Even though he is no longer a cop, Hank Palace continues to do what he knows when he agrees to attempt solving a mystery. He has no obligation to anyone at this point, yet he still is willing to use his last days risking his life and helping out someone from his past. If anything, it helps him keep his own identity and humanity as he does what he can to help others keep a shred of their own.

Pros: The outstanding part of Countdown City is the question it asks about human nature and how we treat each other. Hank Palace is a good guy in the truest sense of the word, while some of the characters he runs across are less than reputable, including some of those that help him. But even though Hank is a white hat in a world of black hats, he still flawed and makes mistakes that threaten his own life. I felt even more immediacy in this story than the first book, especially as the drop dead date approaches and society continues to crumble exponentially. Ben H. Winters again masterfully pieces together a mystery that leaves you guessing until the end.

Cons: Again, as in The Last Policeman, there is little to look forward to in the long term for these characters, as the end is nigh for all of them. As such, Countdown City contains plenty of language, violence, sex and drug use in a world left with no rules. When there are murmurs about how the crisis might be averted, I was reminded of cheesy Hollywood movies about asteroids heading toward Earth.

Recommendations: Countdown City does exactly what the first book did, giving us a spectrum of visceral human reactions to the end of existence. The majority of people act with haste and selfishness by going “bucket list” and doing whatever they want regardless of any potential repercussions, while some few continue to do what they always have: serving coffee at the cafe, keeping the peace, or, in Hank Palace’s case, solving mysteries. Search yourself as you encounter the different characters to see how you might react under the circumstance. Start the series with The Last Policeman, but don’t stop there. See the end of the world out to the end by continuing with Countdown City. The end could come quickly, or there might be more to come.

Ben H. Winters’ website
Countdown City on Goodreads
Buy Countdown City from Amazon
Download Countdown City for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2013 in Mystery, Science Fiction

 

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The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

The Last PolicemanPremise: When asteroid 2011GV1 came into view, the likelihood of its impact with the Earth eventually grew to a certainty. From that point on, people reacted in different ways. Some cashed in their retirements and moved to exotic locations to spend the rest of their lives (six months) to the fullest or to indulge themselves into dangerous or illegal behavior, while some turned to God or sought other meaning. Others fell into despair and gave up, beating the asteroid to the punch by committing suicide. Concord, New Hampshire has become one of those places rife with suicides, and Peter Zell is just another on the list when he is found dangling from a belt in a McDonald’s bathroom. Hank Palace doesn’t think it’s a suicide. The real problem is no one else cares, including the cops he works with.

Due to a lack of personnel, Hank Palace has been put on the fast track from beat cop to detective. Since being a detective is always what he wanted to be, he takes his job seriously, even with the limited amount of time he has left to do it. He is about the only one who still wants to do his job, so he follows the Peter Zell trail to those who last knew of his whereabouts. As he pieces the clues together, he believes more and more this was a murder, even when the medical examiner also rules it a suicide.

In a world that is about to end, with people committing suicide left and right, why bother investigating it as a murder? Everyone is trying to cope in their own way, and maybe this is just Hank’s way of coping. Or maybe he just wants to do his job right. Whatever reasons he has for investigating the death or reasons someone would have to kill a man this close to the end, Hank Palace knows that even if he does find a killer, it might not even ultimately matter.

Themes: A mystery presents itself and new detective Hank Palace wants to take it seriously, even though no one else does. Seeking justice for a dead man doesn’t make sense when the world is probably coming to an end, but that is exactly what Hank plans on doing. Hank goes on a trail for clues to solve the mystery and digs up just what he needs piece by piece. He knows he must be on the right trail when his own life is threatened.

With the survival (or lack of survival) scenario, The Last Policeman presents a “how would you respond?” question to all readers. It gives a macro level look at the human race and the vast range of responses to such a scenario.

The Last Policeman also zooms in on what people are willing to do for their family, even in the worst circumstances, such as putting their jobs in danger, risking their own lives, or even committing crimes including murder. It looks at what people will do to help their family through tough times and also what people are willing to do to protect those they love.

Pros: The pacing of The Last Policeman was wonderful, plodding along in despair at times, and spinning out of control at others. I enjoyed the characters and the dialogue, especially in the face of the Earth’s demise. Clues are doled out right when they are needed with nothing wasted or overdone. The first person present tense punctuates the immediacy of the situation and the urgency of every moment. It poses valid questions with realistic answers under the worst of scenarios and exemplifies the vast array of human reactions to those circumstances. I think it is this display of humanity that had the most impact on me.

Cons: This was difficult for me since I liked The Last Policeman so much. Some readers might find the story somewhat depressing, though there are glimpses of hope throughout. There is some language and violence you will find in most cop novels. The story might start too slow for impatient readers who give up too easily and stop reading, but the reward is great for those who persevere in finishing.

Recommendations: The Last Policeman is one of those books that just grabbed me from the beginning and got better as it progressed. Everything about it seemed to work, from the dialogue to the gradual reveals in the mystery all the way to the foreshadowed revelations when Hank finally solves the mystery. Ben H. Winters has set out a police mystery in an apocalyptic setting that manages to display optimism under gloomy circumstances. As a mystery, cop drama, or as a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel, The Last Policeman has something to offer for everyone. With its exploration of human nature, The Last Policeman poses thoughtful questions everyone should ask themselves. Plus it’s just plain good writing. It’s also the first in a trilogy, for which I am not angry.

Ben H. Winters’ website
The Last Policeman on Goodreads
Buy The Last Policeman on Amazon
Download The Last Policeman for your Kindle

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2012 in Mystery, Science Fiction

 

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