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THE LAST POLICEMAN by Ben H. Winters: Book Review

It’s Concord, New Hampshire, in the very near future.  But, unfortunately, there’s not much future left.

Hank Palace, less than two years on the Concord police force, is about the only person there who still believes it’s important to do the job.  The issue is that in less than six months the earth will be hit by a giant asteroid, an upcoming event that has people leaving their homes, jobs, spouses, and often killing themselves rather than waiting for the collision.   According to the scientists, at least half of the world’s population will die when the asteroid hits, bringing with it earthquakes and tsunamis.  Kind of the end of the world as we know it.

Concord seems to be a “hanger town,” with people hanging themselves in any available space by any available means.  So no one is surprised when a report comes in from a quasi-McDonald’s (nearly all the real ones have closed) that there’s a man hanging in the men’s bathroom.  Hank is the only one who thinks it’s possible that the man was murdered rather than having killed himself.

The assistant district attorney assigned to oversee the case and Hank’s fellow detectives all believe it’s suicide, and even if it’s not, what difference could it make when everyone will be dead in just a few short months.  But to Hank, newly promoted to the detective section and idealistic, it does make a difference, and he receives reluctant permission to investigate Peter Anthony Zell’s death.

Both Peter’s boss, Theodore Gompers, and his co-worker, Naomi Eddes, describe Peter as a loner, a hard worker, someone who kept to himself and seemed the same as always when he left work on the night of his death.  The elderly security guard in the office building says that a red truck picked Peter up that night, a truck the guard had never seen before.

In addition to Zell’s co-workers, Hank also interviews J. T. Toussaint, a childhood friend of Zell’s. Toussaint tells Hank that he and Zell had been close friends for years.   Then he completely lost touch with Zell when the latter went off to college and Toussaint remained in Concord doing construction jobs.  He tells Hank that Zell called him up a few months ago, out of the clear blue sky, and they’d been getting together ever since.  He admits picking Zell up the night of his death, but he knows no more than that. They had a couple of drinks, went to a movie, and then parted ways.  He says he never saw his friend again.

It’s Hank Palace’s youth and naivete that keep him on the job.  He can’t believe that finding out the truth about Peter Zell’s death isn’t important, and just as important is bringing the murderer, if there is one, to justice.  The fact that “justice” may end in six months isn’t important to him; he’s got a job to do and he’ll do it until the end.

The Last Policeman is a wonderful mystery, of course, and an excellent character study as well.  If you knew that the Earth would be destroyed in the very near future, what would you do?  Do you have a bucket list, or would you remain with your family, in your job, until the very end?  By the way the men and women in the novel react, their characters, foibles, and emotions are revealed.  Some react the way the reader is led to expect, and some surprise one totally.

You can read more about Ben H. Winters at his web site.

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