DETECTIVE PALACE VERSUS ASTEROID MAIA
Ben H. Winters’ Award-Winning Last Policeman Novels
Congratulations to Ben H. Winters on the recent nomination of Countdown City, the second novel in the Last Policeman trilogy, for this year’s Philip K. Dick Award for science fiction! Last year, the first novel in the series won an Edgar for best original paperback in mystery and crime fiction. Both honors seem delightful to us, bright spots in a literary world where awards often go to novels that may be epic, meticulously crafted, relevant, or even stupefying, but not always… fun.
The Last Policeman books, so far, are fun!
As The Last Policeman opens in March, Detective Hank Palace is a cop’s cop, one of those rare men who rises each morning knowing exactly why he’s here. That virtue, however, is about to become irrelevant. Maia, a massive asteroid formerly known as 2011GV(sub 1), is predicted, with 100% certainty according to the mews media, to collide with Earth in October. Maia will probably not strike Hank’s home of Concord, New Hampshire dead-on, but her impact is predicted to eradicate life on earth as we know it. With 100% certainty. According to the news media.
Hank, like others around him, takes in this news with grave dismay as he is faced with yet another suicide investigation. But when he sees signs that foul play might have taken the life of Peter Zell, Hank never considers abandoning his job. Instead of rubber-stamping the file, he begins to ask questions. The answers, told over the course of a lively and tense story that’s peppered with wry humor, begin to reveal the rapid breakdown of human civilization in the growing shadow of Maia. What are the limits of human morality, and for what reasons will people resolve to break them?
In the background of the murder investigation, we learn that Hank has a sister, Nico. The two are bound by a tragic family history, driven apart by disparate natures. Nico is younger, quick and intuition-driven, while Hank is deliberate and circumspect. Nico has stepped to the fringes, along with a radical group that believes the Maia story is part of a government conspiracy. The asteroid’s path has been mischaracterized, or can be deflected. Hank rejects the movement–but what if they’re right?
As Countdown City opens, it is July. Maia’s impact is predicted to be less than 3 months away (yes, with 100% certainty). Greater questions arise. What are the limits of human fidelity, faith, and relationship, as civilization recedes into feudal mistrust? The formerly sophisticated global marketplace collapses into local bartering circles. The network of human labor abandons its posts on the power and technology grids. Small, tight communities war with each other for water, food and security. Nico’s faction, for instance, fashions itself as a scouting arm for the Free Republic, a group of students occupying the former University of New Hampshire campus. An escape community called The World of Tomorrow advertises its luxury mountain stronghold to frightened people of means.
The suicide trend has not abated, and Hank is faced with another disappearance. Was Brett Cavatone, ex-cop and devoted husband to Hank’s childhood friend Martha, a victim of foul play, or has he simply “gone bucket-list,” along with the millions of others who have run away to formerly forbidden loves, pleasures, missions, false promises of salvation?
Winters, who earned acclaim for the his spoof-classics Android Karenina and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, writes solid, entertaining crime fiction, infused with his own quirky perspective on the world. Hank Palace is a decent guy, a maddeningly dogged detective, the kind of hero that takes the case of a little boy’s missing toy sword as seriously as the case of a man gone bucket-list. He’s also human enough to fall in love, once or twice, and to maintain a fierce devotion to his only sister, despite the abysmal differences that drive them apart. And he’s unable to do less than his best, even when that is completely, humanly inadequate to prevent the end of the world. What more could anyone ask of a person?
Pick up both paperback originals for a satisfying pre-apocalyptic read, and join us in eagerly awaiting the final installment, World of Trouble, rumored for a summer release!