Countown City is another brilliant addition to the Last Policeman trilogy. It is still a mystery, and still noir, but the apocalyptic elements are coming more to the fore than they were in The Last Policeman. The asteroid is closer, and the social order is increasingly breaking down as more and more people "go Bucket List," trying to get in the last few dreams before the asteroid hits.
Henry Palace, however, has always wanted to be a policeman, and he still wants to, even if he no longer officially has the job. This time, he takes the job of finding a missing person in a world where missing people are taken for granted. As before, Winters is playing with the noir tropes: There's the lady in distress, a mysterious organization, guns aplenty, plenty of tough-talking folk, and a detective who just won't quit. There's also an asteroid due to hit the earth in seventy-seven days. The lady in distress is Henry's former babysitter. The guns are being gathered and hoarded by survivalists, some of whom are trying to stay alive until the strike, some of whom hope to make it in whatever "aftermath" a large (dinosaur extinction large) asteroid will leave. The detective who won't quit isn't just sticking to it until this particular case is solved, he's staying on the job until the end of the world.
As with The Last Policeman, the novel is multi-layered. There is the mystery at hand, finding a missing man in a world where everyone takes people going missing for granted. Then there is the second mystery, the one I suspect will take the front in book three, what are Nico's allies up to? And beyond that is the mystery of human behavior: How do people live when the world is coming to an end? When there is a known expiration date and no hope of survival? Who stays on the job and who leaves? Why? What happens when there aren't enough people staying? Is there room for mercy in a world that is ending?
Countdown City is darker than the first book, with more chaos to come in the third book, but still with hints of humor, word play, and friendship. As he goes about his work, Henry mentally catalogs ways people refer to the coming asteroid "The current environment," "these days;" there are no adequate descriptors. Winters has a knack for creating characters you care about and cheer for, even in circumstances when there is no way to have a happy ending, ultimately--but where the reader (like many of the characters) keeps hoping anyway. It's highly readable, highly recommended.
And, yes, there is plenty of material for philosophical discussion. In fact, if ever a book cried out for a book group, Countdown City does. Why am I not getting into deep philosophical discussions here? Well, I've only read it once so far, and I have to admit: It was a pretty quick "Whathappenesnext!" sort of page-turning read. Later, sometime, I'll sit down and read it a little more slowly. It does make me happy that some of the people staying on to the end are librarians and doctors. They, it seems, are doing what they wanted all along.
Rhapsody in Books
Links of Interest
My review of The Last Policeman
Ben H. Winters' website.
The Last Policeman on Amazon
A Q&A with Ben Winters
A Look at Concord and the Last Policeman
Got a link or a review I should include? Contact me or let me know in the comments!