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Hank Palace: Still Sleuthing at the End of the World

August 4, 2013 by Reader's Connection

The Last Policeman

When I raved about the Ben H. Winters novel, The Last Policeman, a year ago, I said that I was delighted to learn that it was the first in a trilogy. The second installment has arrived, and I prepared for it by rereading the first.

It was risky, of course, to remind myself of how great The Last Policeman was. I was opening myself up for disappointment. But the second book, Countdown City, is wonderful, jolting off in new directions while allowing some characters we’ve met before to surprise us.



Countdown City

If you’re new to the story, there’s an asteroid headed for the earth, and we’re all going to be killed–some of us right away, others in the long term. Social norms are crumbling, but Concord, New Hampshire Police Detective Hank Palace goes on being a detective. He wants to do his best, up until the end, and he feels good about others who share this desire.

I sigh, lean one hip against the rusted green steel of the bridge’s guard rail. A shell slides by, cutting through the surface of the river, the crew grunting as they shoot past. I like these kids, getting up at six in the morning to row crew, keeping in shape, sticking with their program. These kids, I like.

In Countdown City, Hank becomes involved in a missing persons case. He’s not exactly a detective, any more–the Concord Police Department has been “federalized”–but a woman who had once been a baby-sitter for Hank and his sister is upset by her husband’s disappearance, and Hank gives in and agrees to help her, even though people are disappearing all the time, now, going off to do things they always wanted to do.

Hank is off into the wilds, and sometimes those are the urban wilds. In one scene, he goes pounding on doors, looking for someone.

. . . the door is answered by an elderly couple, cowering, hands in the air, the woman in a nightgown and the man in slippers and pajama bottoms, pleading with me to leave them be. I exhale, step back from the door frame.

“Sorry to bother you,” I say. I take a step down the porch, then turn back before they’ve closed the door.

“I’m a policeman,” I say. “Do you have food?”

They nod.

“How much?”

“A lot,” says the woman.

“Enough,” says the man.

“Okay,” I say. Our bones are rattled by a reverberant boom from the southwest, the area of Little Pond Road and the reservoir.

“Do me a favor, folks: Don’t answer your door anymore.”

They nod, wide eyed. “You mean, tonight?”

“Just don’t answer your door anymore.”

I love the way everyone in the novel misses coffee. There are problems with electricity and water and everything else, but the absence of coffee really weighs on these characters. Makes me want to brew a pot, and sit back and wait for the third Hank Palace book. Haven’t heard what the title is going to be.


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