Countdown City - Ben H. Winters What would you do if the world was going to end in a little less than three months?

Being a wimp, I’d probably hide in the basement closet with a comforter over my head, praying that it’s all a bad dream. Most likely I’d be depressed and wouldn’t be able to go about my everyday life like everything was normal. I definitely wouldn’t be like Hank Palace, the main character of this novel, because even with an asteroid hurtling through space towards earth threatening to wipe out all life on the planet, he’s still out there patrolling the streets trying to be the best damn policeman he can be.

Not that Hank’s even a policeman anymore; he’s been relieved of his duty, after what’s left of law enforcement in the country went through some major restructuring. In the time between Countdown City and the previous book The Last Policeman, things have gotten worse. Even the last vestiges of institution and pockets of civilization are starting to break down, with electricity gone now and water about to be next.

Hank, though, is still on the job, taking on a missing-persons case to find the husband of Martha Cavatone, the woman who used to be his babysitter. Much like he was in the last book, he becomes rabidly obsessed with the case, but is this merely due to his personal connection to Martha? Or it this just Hank’s own version of hiding in the basement under the covers? I get the feeling that beneath his focused exterior, he’s just as crazy with panic as everyone else. To me, this made him a very interesting breed of unreliable narrator.

Once again, I’m just floored by Winter’s interpretation of a pre-apocalyptic America. While I’ve read tons of apocalyptic novels, most of these take place after the destructive event has already happened, or they take place just before. Very rarely do you see a book like this where everyone knows the end is coming, but the catch is that it’s not coming for a while yet, and the world has to suffer through this plodding march towards doom like watching a slow death.

In circumstances like these, anything can happen, really. But the author makes it so realistic, showing a wide variety of human reactions to the killer asteroid. There’s Hank, who immerses himself in work, and there are also people like his sister, who still believes there’s hope and joins a commune. As you’d expect, there are also those who just lose it and commit suicide (thus giving us the basis of the first book) as well as a significant portion of the population that goes “Bucket List” (which forms an interesting theory for this book). As Hank notes, cases that seemed mundane under normal circumstances take on a whole different meaning in these new times, because there’s no such thing as “normal circumstances” anymore.

A police procedural set against a backdrop like this takes on a brand new twist – and I think this is the key to why I enjoyed this sequel more than its predecessor. The Last Policeman had a good story, but I felt the details of the case Hank worked on in that book had very little to do with the social climate or the situation with the asteroid. This book, however, has those elements all over his missing-persons investigation. It made the impending armageddon an integral part of the case rather than just the background. Clock’s ticking and it’s getting real now, and this book really makes you feel it.

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