My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I came to The Last Policeman trilogy as I prepared to interview Ben H. Winters for The Downtown Writers Podcast, a show I host in Indianapolis, where both Ben and I live. Generally, I neither drawn to fiction nor detective novels, but I was pleasantly surprised by the series.
And since I read all three books in the course of a week, I thought I’d write one review for all three books.
The trilogy’s premise is this: An asteroid is set to collide with Earth in less than a year, and the world is slowly descending into chaos as the apocalypse nears. As the world falls apart, one man deals with the situation by continuing to focus on his job as a detective.
While the books have a hard science fiction backdrop — an apocalyptic asteroid on a collision course with Earth — there’s not much science to the fiction. At its heart, the series is a noir detective novel. Henry Palace follows a series of loosely-connected (and sometimes disconnected) events through the three novels, piecing together clues when he can and trying to bring some sense of order to his increasingly shrinking world.
As you might expect from a writer early in his fiction career, the series gets stronger throughout. The first book, The Last Policeman, felt small a times, an insular story about a single character who bounced off a tiny number of people in a single town. Rather than giving a sense of dramatic claustrophobia, the novel felt as if the author was simply working out the mechanics of the story.
This isn’t to say the book wasn’t enjoyable. I read it in one sitting. The story simply felt as if the author wasn’t quite sure of his ability to handle a larger, more complex set of characters.
That changed in the second book, Countdown City (4 stars), and the third book, World of Trouble (5 stars). The story began to take root in the larger world, the characters became a bit more complex, and their interactions more enjoyable. Understandably, the story then shed some of the basic detective novel tropes and felt more fluid.
As I began the third book, I wasn’t sure what I considered a satisfying end to the trilogy. Nevermind that, though, as the last third of World of Trouble caught me entirely off guard, veering the story in a direction I hadn’t expected. By the end, I couldn’t imagine the story ending any other way.
Of course, the grand simplicity of the third book reinforced the smallness of the first book, which retroactively made for an enjoyable overall experience. In other words, The Last Policeman is much better once it sits contextually within the trilogy.
If you’re looking for a quick, enjoyable read, The Last Policeman trilogy is a good place to look.