Winner of the 2013 Edgar® Award Winner for Best Paperback Original!
What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?
Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.
The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.
The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman offers a mystery set on the brink of an apocalypse. As Palace’s investigation plays out under the shadow of 2011GV1, we’re confronted by hard questions way beyond “whodunit.” What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?
Amazon Best Books of the Month, July 2012: It’s not often you hear a book described as a pre-apocalyptic police procedural. But in the hands of Ben Winters (Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters), the mash-up of murder mystery and gloomy end-of-world melodrama works perfectly. Detective Hank Palace knows the world will likely be destroyed in six months by the meteor headed toward earth like a bullet. But unlike those who are giving up, quitting jobs, doing drugs, running away, or killing themselves, Palace has a job to do. He’s got a murder to solve. So he keeps plugging away, unwilling to let the looming apocalypse distract him from finding the killer. Palace is an appealingly off-kilter character, more goofball than hard-boiled. So it’s a very good thing that this is the first in a planned trilogy. --Neal Thompson
The Last Policeman is set in a world in which a massive asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, but the novel centers on one detective's murder investigation. Where did you get the idea to combine these two disparate elements of storytelling?
Well, you know, story ideas are like giant planet-dooming asteroids: they always take you by surprise. But I've always had a soft spot for certain kinds of science fiction, books that imagine one grand change to the human situation and tease it out. P. D. James's Children of Men is a marvelous example, or Philip José Farmer's Riverworld series.
The "pre-apocalyptic" side of this "pre-apocalyptic murder mystery" definitely came first. I thought it would be fascinating to imagine my way into the sad and terrifying last months of civilization. Then I set about imagining the right hero for this kind of book, and I thought that what I needed was someone who is extremely dedicated to his work, who cannot let the world end before solving the puzzle before him. That's where the character of Detective Henry Palace came from, my intensely, even bizarrely dedicated public servant.
The obligatory question: What would you do if Earth would be annihilated in six months?
Well, I'm under contract with Quirk Books to write the sequel to The Last Policeman, so first I'd get that done.
Just kidding. I think, honestly, that I would spend time with my children. I'd read them a lot of books, and take them to beautiful places, and try to prevent them from hearing anything about what was coming. (The idea of that, by the way, makes me tearful, as it did periodically over the course of writing this.)
Can you give us any details about the upcoming second and third novels in the series?
Like The Last Policeman, each of the sequels will have at its center a crime that Palace is trying to solve. But, also like this one, each will be at least equally interested in the details of the disintegrating world, and in plumbing the psyche of this lawman: how and why he remains "on the job" even as the job, along with the rest of civilization, crumbles around him.