The Last Policeman - Ben H. Winters 3.5 stars. This was a book I picked up for a couple of bucks in the Kindle store earlier in the week. I was immediately intrigued after taking a look at the synopsis and seeing what it was about, and who can argue with that price, right? Anyway, now that I've read it, the next thing I'm going to say will probably make this review sound a little harsh, but know that it is not my intention because the book was actually quite good. Truth is, though, the blurb made the book sound a lot more interesting than it really is.

At its heart, The Last Policeman is a police procedural following new detective Hank Palace's investigations into a suspicious death by hanging. But there's a twist, because all the while there is a killer asteroid hurtling towards the earth, set to end all life on the planet when it impacts in six months. As you can already guess, there have been a lot of suicides since the news broke, which is why Hank seems to be the only person taking this case seriously.

The book is a fascinating interpretation of what the country would be like if everyone knew the end was coming. I find it's actually handled quite realistically; I mean, in a world of billions, it only makes sense that some portion of the population might give up, while others go crazy. Still others might become ambivalent to everything around them, quit work, start living dangerously or hit their bucket list to do everything they've ever wanted to do before the world ends. Humans are so unpredictable. They will react to different situations in very different ways. So really, it's not so unbelievable that there will also be folks like Hank Palace who just want to get on with their lives and give a hundred percent at their jobs like it was any other day.

For me, it was this pre-apocalyptic scenario that made the book so entertaining, not the actual detective story itself. The fun was reading about the general social climate of the country, the descriptions of how society is slowly breaking down, little pockets of order and civility holding on while everything else crumbles around them. People are now thrown in jail for life without trial for even the most minor of offenses. Churches are packed, cell phone coverage is spotty, commodities like gas, alcohol and certain food products are hard to come by. All this creates a context for the "whodunit" story that slowly unfolds, but at a certain point the setting became bigger than the mystery. Ironically, the world became more important to me than actually finding out about "whodunit".

That's not to say that the case itself wasn't interesting to follow. It's your classic mystery plot, well laid out and suspenseful, but quite honestly, without the background of doomsday and all that, I'm not sure that there's anything really that special about it. The book certainly wouldn't have held my attention as much as it did. I just wished there was more of the science-fiction aspect involved in the investigation of the case, with the scenario of the asteroid playing more into the mystery plot. As it is, I didn't get much of that until the very end, practically at the epilogue. The insufficient connection to the sci-fi angle left me somewhat underwhelmed.

Still, the book leaves enough potential for development. It was a very quick and easy read, which made me surprised when I found out that it is actually the first book of what I think is going to be a trilogy. It basically ends with a promise of much more to come. I'm definitely going to pick up the sequel because I'm dying to find out what happens, and something also tells me that the next book will have more of that sci-fi and apocalypse aspect in the mix.

See more reviews at The BiblioSanctum