Sunday, 25 December 2016

The Last Policeman by Ben Winters

So, the world is going to more or less end in the next year - an asteroid is going to crash into the Earth, and anyone anywhere remotely nearby will be killed instantly, and the rest may die in the ensuing long winter of ash and dark. But in the lead-up to that, how much does society collapse, and how much does it cling to some rough semblance of normalcy? These are the questions Ben Winters is considering in this murder mystery set in exactly the above, and despite a couple of things, it was mostly pretty good. Good enough to keep me reading the series, if not quite good enough to send me out onto the streets telling others to get off their butts and read it too.

First of the quibbles is that I've seen Last Night. This small Canadian movie came out, god, quite a while ago now. (Let me look it up. Hey, 1998, the year my husband and I started dating!) You never know what is going to end the world at 6pm that night (or whatever the time is), but it's certain, and the sun never seems to set anymore. In it, we follow a bunch of people around as they try to wrap up affairs, in a world that has changed but not fallen apart in the long shadow of the knowledge of the end. I am reminded of the character who sits at his desk, assuring customers by phone that they'll continue to have electricity until the end and thanking them for their business.

The main character in this book is a little like that, except with the police. Always wanting to have been a policeman, he's vaulted into being a detective rather quickly. When he finds what looks like one more suicide in a world that is awash in them, he thinks it looks hinky enough to do some further investigating, despite the general feel of the police that they're just keeping the peace and what's one death more or less at this point?

The other thing that wasn't quite up to snuff is that I figured out who the murderer was within probably seconds of meeting that character - they just screamed perpetrator to me. And I say this as someone who NEVER guesses whodunnit in advance. Some people have that gift, I rarely do. (I do sometimes know because I read the last few pages early on, but I am bad at guessing.) So it's too bad that it was telegraphed as clearly as it was (to me, anyway).

However, there were enough pleasures in just reading this book that that was fine. Most of it is, of course, about how people deal with impending mass death, if not extinction, from religion to suicide to drugs, which the U.S. government is cracking down on with disproportionate harshness (although apparently pot has been legalized.)

There are conspiracy theories and risk analyses, as the world waits to find out where the asteroid will land in six months, and that's a good moment to set the book. And it's interesting, even if much of it kept reminding me of Last Night, although without the emotional punch of that last scene with Don McKellar and Sandra Oh. But hey, Winters has two more books to go in the series that are already out, and I'm looking forward to reading them.

I just wish that the mystery part was a little better crafted. I like the idea of a murder mystery in the buildup to the apocalypse. What we get from that part is serviceable but not quite enough to take it to the next level. Which pretty much sums up how I feel about the book. There's nothing wrong with it, and I enjoyed it. It just didn't reach further.

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