This is the second novel in The Last Policeman trilogy. While it could be read as a standalone, I wouldn’t recommend it. This is a trilogy to savour. The review of The Last Policeman is here.
With just 77 days until Maia, an asteroid hell bent on destroying life of Earth, hits, Detective Henry (Hank) Palace is out of a job. Police stations are closed, as are most businesses, and only the most persistent of optimists can bother to bring some normality to everyday life, through running cafes with little food or opening shops with little stock. Suicides are commonplace, many other people have vanished to chase their Bucket List dreams. Electricity is only a memory as are phones, money, fuel. Hank Palace relies on his ten-speed bicycle to get around New Hampshire, his dog Houdini towed along in a little wagon. Hank might not have official cases to crack but, ever the detective, Hank cannot stop identifying puzzles, chasing leads, writing down all the evidence, helping people. Right now he works to help the children orphaned or abandoned on the streets of Concord, finding their lost items, giving them a little bit of security, some adult protection.
One day, Martha Cavatone, the woman who helped to look after Hank and Nico during a most desperate time in their own childhood, asks Hank for help. Her husband has disappeared. Everyone else thinks, and the clues certainly support this, that Martha’s husband is one of the many Bucket Listers, but Hank agrees that he would never have left Martha to die alone without good reason. Wanting to help but also satisfying his own deeply ingrained need to keep being a detective, Hank calls on his sister Nico to help him help Martha. Nico, though, is wayward, defiant and brave, believing that America and the world are victim to a great conspiracy. She knows people that can assist Hank in his quest and so she takes him into another world, one in which the word ‘hope’ might just survive in its vocabulary.
Countdown City is the second novel in Ben H. Winter’s fine Last Policeman trilogy. Combining apocalyptic thrills with police procedural and crime fiction, this series is utterly compelling. Its portrait of American society in its terrified death throes is as disturbing as it is vivid. In this middle novel, the chaos of complete anarchy is close – the only factor keeping it away is that water still flows through the taps. But you just know that it can only be days or just hours until that last symbol of civilisation is wrenched away. Hank and Nico Palace move through this landscape and it is testament to Winters’ superb skills as a writer that he makes the story of these two human beings as fascinating and absorbing as the larger story of the asteroid.
Hank and Nico’s journey allows Winters to explore the different effects that this disaster has had on society. Most memorable is their visit to what was once a University campus but is now the home to revolution. Youngsters have taken over the place, creating their own laws and lawlessness, failing to see that the collapse of society is simply the prelude to the collapse of life. And that is one of the most extraordinary aspects of this novel and to this series – the end of the world is just a countdown away but there is still hope and there is still humour and life and love. Hank and Nico have had their troubles over the years but this is a chance for them to pull together, helping someone who was there to support them years before. Then there’s Houdini the dog. His unquestioning trust and devotion is such a highlight and adds something more to Hank’s character. Hank has his obsessions and foibles but he (and Nico) is impossible not to like and in this book we care for him more than ever.
Running through it all is the drama of the crime solving, just as it did in The Last Policeman. The mystery is a good one, full of twists and surprises and not at all what I was expecting. As before, I didn’t guess where the novel was leading.
Countdown City, just like its predecessor (and its successor), is a relatively brief novel that is so hard to put down. I read all three books back to back, driven by the series’ captivating mix of disaster and humanity and how one intriguing young man is able to cope with both.
A review of the conclusion World of Trouble will follow very soon.
The Last Policeman