77 days. That’s all the Earth has left until the asteroid designated 2011GV1 hits the Indian Ocean and life as we know it ends. The world is in tatters. Those who haven’t checked out have few choices. Many have left their homes and families to finish out their Bucket Lists. Others have joined volunteer organizations that are doing their best to try and help feed and console those who are still living in shock or denial or both. And others, like Henry Palace, are just trying to hold it together by doing the only thing that can help keep their minds off of the asteroid — their jobs.
Henry is a police detective. Well, he was. As the asteroid nears, the government is consolidating its resources where it can and has decided that the homicide division in the Concord Police Department is no longer necessary. As a matter of fact, the only police presence in Concord now is simply a cop on every corner to try and keep an uneasy peace in the town. It’s working… but probably not for long.
Henry’s now out of a job, but that doesn’t mean he’s no longer a detective. So when Henry’s childhood babysitter, Martha, pleads with him to go and find her missing husband, Henry just can’t say no. Fearing that the Missing Person case may turn into a suicide or just someone who has decided to spend his last few days with company other than his wife, Henry reluctantly begins his investigation. But as the hunt begins for Brett, an ex-state trooper, Henry begins to discover much more than a simple missing persons case.
As Henry travels (mainly by bike) around Concord and the surrounding areas, he crosses paths with a number of interesting characters, including his younger sister Nico, a free-spirited protestor-type who helps him gain entrance to a college campus that’s been taken over by the students and turned into a bit of a survivalist compound mixed with a hippy commune.
That’s about as far as I’ll go in pointing you to Countdown City: The Last Policeman Book II. Any further discussion would likely ruin some of the surprises that Henry uncovers during his hunt for Brett. If you’ve not read the first book, The Last Policeman, that’s okay — it’s not required to enjoy this tale. (I’m including my original review of The Last Policeman at the end of this review.) Book II will drop you right into the trilogy, catch you up quick, and then give you a novel’s worth of meditation (or nightmares) on what it’s like to know the date and time when the world ends.
Countdown City poses a lot of questions, asking readers to consider how they would spend their remaining days, who (and why) they would trust with the safety of their family, and to what extremes they might go to ensure everyone (friends and complete strangers) has the same amount of time left to live life to the fullest.
For those who enjoyed Book I and are finishing up Book II, you’re probably like me and wondering about how Winters is going to wrap the story up. The trilogy is almost complete, and time is running out for Henry and the rest of humanity. Author Ben H. Winters mentioned in an interview with his publisher, Quirk Books, that the third book is a murder mystery and its working title (meaning it could change) is based on an Elvis Costello song, Man Out of Time. Henry is a man who leaves no stone unturned, so that’s a title worth mulling over. The last policeman has only a few months left until the asteroid strikes — no word on when Book III is scheduled to be released, but hopefully Winters is working fast. You know… just in case.
Note: I’d like to thank Quirk Books for providing me a copy of Countdown City. I’d also like to request that Book III be sent to me as soon as humanly possible. I’m okay with an unedited draft version with possible spelling errors and I really don’t care if the title has yet to be determined. Gimme.
[Below is a slightly abridged version of my previous review of The Last Policeman.]
If a world-ending asteroid were on a collision course with Earth, would you spend the last six months on the job? That’s the question asked by author Ben H. Winters in his novel, The Last Policeman. Henry Palace, a mid-twenties beat cop has just been promoted to detective — there’s not a lot of detectives sticking around these days, and those not heading out to fulfill their personal bucket lists find their daily duties involving more and more suicide investigations. The federal government has passed extreme legislation, bordering on martial law in some instances, that give police a lot of extra authority as well as the ability to speed through suicide investigations with less than the usual level of investigation.
When the story begins, Henry is investigating a hanger… yet another suicide by hanging. But Henry’s got a background that has instilled in him a strong sense of pride and responsibility in his job. He just refuses to cut corners in his work, and his fellow detectives still manage to find humor in the young guy’s commitment to his cases. Henry still shows up in suit and tie. He follows up every lead. And he knows that humans are still capable of murder, even when asteroid 2011GV1 is pretty much guaranteeing extinction for all of mankind.
This hanger that Henry’s investigating… it all looks like a typical suicide. But the novel wouldn’t be much of a crime story if there weren’t a crime, right? While all the other detectives are telling him to close the case, Henry’s instincts and observations are pointing in another direction, and the majority of the tale follows Henry as he begins to unravel the true crime that’s been committed.
During the investigation, we learn quite a bit about Henry. He’s got a sister, Nico, who has her own end-of-the-world problems with her new husband who’s gone missing, and she manages to drag Henry into the trouble. Henry’s also being forced to examine his own feelings on what it means to be facing a scheduled death sentence. He’s curious about what drives other people to take their own lives rather than continue living to the last absolute moment. And, just to prove that you never quite know when someone interesting might walk into your life, Henry’s met someone during the course of his investigation.
As Henry tries his best to live his life, deal with family and work issues, and perform his job to the best of his abilities, he meets resistance on every corner. With the end of the world looming, someone is determined to undermine the investigation, leaving Henry as the last man in his department to actually be interested in solving a crime.
The Last Policeman is not a science fiction tale. Let’s just get that out on the table. This is a crime story. Winters has done his homework, with a story full of procedures and methodologies that are demonstrated rather than explained. I enjoyed that… a lot. Asteroid 2011GV1 is on its way, and the world is full of sadness as well as shocking actions by individuals and groups, but Henry is all about the case at hand, and you get a front-row seat on the investigation.You will learn about the discovery of the asteroid, it’s early effects on the world’s population as the calculations are performed and the odds of impact get progressively worse for mankind. You will discover the many ways that humans react to the worst news ever, and be forced yourself to think about this situation and how you might react to it.
You can read an interview with Ben H. Winters from an earlier post on The Last Policeman conducted by fellow GeekDad contributor Ethan Gilsdorf here.