You may or may not recall that my first 2013 book was Ben Winters’ The Last Policeman, which I read in one sitting on January first. It’s the tale of a fairly green police detective chasing an apparent suicide that doesn’t look quite right — and set in a world with an expiration date. An asteroid is bearing down on the Earth; the expectation is that virtually no one will live past the following October. This sets in motion a number of events and changes in society, and it’s teasing out these effects where Winters does his best work, at least in the first volume. It’s not that the story is substandard; it’s just that he does such a good job with the worldbuilding that you get a little distracted.
The balance is better with book 2, Countdown City. The clock’s kept moving; by now, we’re inside 3 months. The asteroid is now set to impact the far side of the world, so we’ve added refugee issues to the challenges being faced by the people in Winters’ world. The plot this time is less obvious, and plugs into the impending doom a bit more directly even if it starts with a conventional missing-persons case (which, in this world, are never “conventional” — people run away or commit suicide with alarming regularity). As before, though, I sort of feel like Winters whiffs the ending. Not so much that it ruins the book, and no so much that I don’t want to read the final book (due next summer), but enough to be annoying.
Also annoying: Winters and his editor made some seriously rookie mistakes here when it comes to firearms. In 2013, that’s just silly; gun people are one of the original nerd tribes, and will happily set you straight about any number of concepts. For example, it should’ve been easy for them to find out that SIG Sauer doesn’t even make a revolver — and that, to be honest, nobody the age of Winters’ cop would be using a wheel gun anyway.
Winters compounds the problem by invoking a sniper rifle with a military designation (M140) that’s either made up or so obscure as to be a poor choice. Since there IS a Marine sniper rifle called the M40, plus a couple others based on the M14, it’s easy to see where the error came from, but that doesn’t completely excuse it. if you’re going to be specific, get it right. Being less specific to finesse your lack of knowledge on a given subject is no sin, as long as you don’t destabilize your plot; in both cases, Winters would’ve been safe avoiding the specific reference.