Books of 2013 #1: The Last Policeman

I realized, in retrospect, that I’d read too much ephemeral bullshit online last year and not enough actual books, so my only real resolution for 2013 is to read more books. I certainly have no shortage of candidates — a revised online information diet would still include plenty of sources for new interesting tomes, and that’s where I found book 2013.1, The Last Policeman.

It’s no secret I mostly read so-called “serious” books, but my travel schedule and (frankly) age have softened that prejudice a bit in recent years. I’ve read more SF, devoured all of the Harry Dresden books, and even picked up a bit of a mystery/thriller habit that I initially thought was confined to Robert Parker’s “Spenser” novels (turns out I was wrong, and as a consequence I know in my bones that Tom Cruise is absolutely NOT Jack Reacher).

Anyway, book #1 for 2013 is a hybrid title. The Last Policeman is both a mystery and, technically, a science fiction story. The argument is this: owing to the impending and inexorable arrival of a large asteroid, Earth as we know it has about six months to go. We join the story in media res on that point; the protagonist (Detective Hank Palace) fills us in on the recent past as part of the narrative, so we get to explore how the world reacted as the likelihood of impact moved from “nothing to worry about” to “oh God, oh God, we’re all going to die.” His rumination gives us most of the speculative-fiction bits in the novel (which is otherwise set in a world basically just like our own), since obviously the impending doom of all or most of mankind is going to do some very weird things to society, to the economy, to geopolitics, and most notably to individual humans themselves.

Palace’s job as a murder cop has become very odd indeed, since, as zero-hour approaches, more and more people are opting to check out early. Suicides are rampant, which of course creates an excellent smokescreen for a murder or two. It’s not at all inventive that the story hinges on Palace deciding one particular “hanger” was in fact a murder, but it is inventive that it takes place in a world where “well, so fucking what?” is an increasingly viable answer.

The book’s not high lit by any stretch of the imagination — I read the whole thing on New Year’s Day — but it was definitely fun. I’ve learned to be kind of circumspect about recommendations from places like BoingBoing or IO9, but this time around I wasn’t disappointed. I expect I’ll read the other two books Ben Winters has planned for Detective Palace.

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