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Showing 1-10 of 599 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 820 reviews
on October 9, 2016
Low-key, thoughtful tale of a new detective who decides an apparent suicide by hanging is really a murder, and goes to amazing lengths to prove it. So what, you say, because this plot point has been done to death--pun perhaps intended.

Because suicides by hanging are a common occurrence these days, occasioned by the date certain--October 9--that a large asteroid will strike the earth. Why bother with a possible murder when there are less than six months left? Why care about the dead man, and what led to his demise when the looming demise of everyone is a guarantee?

I thought Detective Henry Palace's often insightful and frequently bumbling efforts to solve this case, and the interesting fallout from it, are what sets this story apart from other "police procedurals." The supporting cast of almost-impossible-to-categorize folks is stocked with fully realized individuals, all of them metaphorically--or really--glancing at the sky perhaps without realizing it. The tension is there, whether in Palace's determination to find a killer or in how everyone in a grim and depleted Concord, NH is managing to cope with the extinction level event. The writing is clear, competent, and unobtrusive, letting the story unwind naturally without any of the usual literary stumbling blocks.

And just so you know, this is the first in a trilogy. I usually flee screaming from any series--other than Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter--but when I finished this book last night, I downloaded the remaining volumes. I adore ginormous natural disasters, and can't wait to see how this one plays out.
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on September 10, 2015
Years ago I heard someone make the observation that our culture seems to be the only time in history that people romanticize the apocalypse. People often actively imagine what it would be like to live in the last days and how the end would come. I, however, suspect that the arrival of that day would in reality be met with fear and a great deal of panic. In the first volume of a trilogy, Ben H. Winters poses a similar scenario in his novel The Last Policeman.

The novel opens six months before the end of the world as the protagonist, Hank Palace, is investigating a murder. The cause of our planet’s demise will be an asteroid over six kilometers wide rushing towards the Earth. Originally the odds of it touching our planet were so small as to be almost a statistical nullity, but as time passed and the asteroid came closer and revealed it unusually long elliptical orbit, the likelihood of impact eventually become a certainty. As a result, the economy plummets, with many large corporations going bankrupt, and the government imposes a form of martial law. Despite persistent rumors, there is no hope for sending a small portion of humanity towards the stars or going underground into protected bunkers. Many people begin to engage in random acts of hedonism or commit suicide. For most individuals, however, they go about their lives with the asteroid being little more than a subject of grim humor and workplace betting pools as to its landing point.

The book opens with Detective Palace in the bathroom of a McDonald’s, investigating the apparent suicide of a man named Peter Zell. Zell’s body is found hanging from an expensive belt, which strikes Palace as odd given Zell’s mundane taste in clothing and that Zell was already wearing another one. Palace digs further, questioning Zell’s closest associates and slowly discovers Zell was a man obsessed with the numbers relating to the asteroid’s impact. At the same time, Palace must deal with the trouble his only surviving relative, his sister, presents him when her husband is arrested for attempting to perform a “terrorist” act (riding an ATV) on federal property. He also begins to establish a relationship with one of the witnesses in the case. Without giving away who the murderer ultimately is, it is a surprising figure who appears early in the novel.

This book performs an impressive task of taking an old concept and making it seem original. With six months until the end of the world, it seems somewhat futile to pursue a criminal investigation when that is longest possible penalty. Nonetheless, most people perform their jobs well and carry on with dignity. I suppose that is because death is something every person knows lies in their future; in this case, those futures just happen to coincide in time. On the whole, this was a great book that tackles a complex scientific subject and makes its premise seem possible, without overwhelming the reader’s understanding. While I have not yet read the second and third volumes of this series, I anticipate reading them soon. It will be interesting to see how Winters handles the ever closer approach of the end and peoples’ reactions. Here’s hoping the sky doesn’t fall in the meantime.
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on October 27, 2016
I love the basic premise of this and the others in this trilogy (although I have only read this one). What do we do when apocalypse is imminent and we even know the date? Do we just go about our normal affairs and do our best? What would it really mean for the End to be Nigh? The concept is intriguing, but then it is then necessary to engage with the story and its main character and narrator, a dedicated policeman who wants to solve a case before it is too late. We are in Hanger Town, where the increasing number of suicides choose hanging as their preferred method. But Is this a suicide or a murder? Turns out to be the latter of course... so many detective plots use this device. The narrator is a likeable and interesting character with an interesting interior world which he shares with the reader in a kind of faux laconic manner. His name is Palace but the hard-boiled detectives on his squad call him "Stretch". The descriptive prose is great: very evocative of Last Times, with abandoned cars, people queuing for lightbulbs and shovels, no more gasoline for the average punters and nothing to look forward to. Ever. But there is a lot going on with the narrative and some romantic stuff and some psychodramatic memories from the past and something happens to the construction of the plot around two thirds through and after that it's a bit confusing, until near the end when the murderer is captured but there's nothing much to do with him because the Police Department had been effectively closed down - well, Federalized, whatever that means. There is a serious and intelligent sociology going on in this story, disguised as a standard contemporary-style murder investigation. Still, streets ahead of a lot of Kindle fiction, so go for it.
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on January 29, 2017
This book starts out well, with the author slipping in many hooks related to the murder and the unique setting, and the author quickly establishes himself as more than competent. Everything is unfolding cleanly and it's enjoyable to follow along.

The first red flags appear around the middle of the book, with the inclusion of a couple of scenes that are jarringly out of place. In one case, it seems like they author may have decided late in the writing progress to throw something in to increase the tension, but it's too cliche and doesn't match the tone of the rest of the book, nor does it even integrate well with the rest of the plot.

Nonetheless, the second half of the book is still enjoyable up until the grand reveal, which does not meet the expectations that are set by the amount of thought that had clearly gone into outlining the story.

It was hard to decide on a rating for this book because I enjoyed it plenty while reading along, but I like it less in retrospect. I think it could have benefited from another round of revisions. In addition to what I already mentioned, I think it was a mistake to write a first-person narrative from the viewpoint of a character whose quirk is that he is more boring than everyone else, even if he is well developed. As written, perhaps a better supporting cast could have helped. I'll give 4 stars, but I'm ambivalent about recommending it or continuing with the series.
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VINE VOICEon June 29, 2014
Here's what I liked about this book:
1. Interesting plot with an unusual backstory for a police procedural,
2. Sympathetic narrator, again somewhat unusual for a police procedural, and believable characters who respond to the situation in ways I find credible,
3. Good writing,
4. Following up the "good writing" theme, a great opening:
I'm staring at the insurance man, and he's staring at me, two cold gray eyes behind old-fashioned tortoiseshell frames, and I'm having this awful and inspiring feeling, like holy moly this is real, and I don't know if I'm ready, I really don't.
I narrow my eyes and I steady myself and I take him in again, shift on my haunches to get a closer look. The eyes and the glasses, the weak chin and the receding hairline, the thin black belt tied and tightened beneath the chin.
5. Thoughtful and credible descriptions of what people faced with the likely extinction of the human race would do, e.g., why not start smoking again; lung cancer is not very scary in such a situation?
6. Following up, again, on #5 above, the way it caused me to consider what I would do myself if faced with this situation, and
7. Good denouement. I figured it out close to the end, but it wasn't glaringly obvious.

Here's what I didn't like:

Unfortunately, a book I've had on reserve at the library just cleared, so I will not be able to get to #2 in the series for a few days. Darn!
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on April 20, 2017
Follows the old Clarke/Heinlein/Asimov rule for great science fiction: start with the real world, assume a single counterfactual (a nonexistent technology, the absence of light speed as a barrier, or in this case an incoming asteroid), and then write a story about people predicting how we would be different (and how the same) in light of that counterfactual. A classic noir in that vein, with what I think is a remarkable insight into how much we would all carry on much more normally than one would assume.
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on March 13, 2017
I enjoy detective stories generally, but this one has a special twist that makes it more interesting. An asteroid is bearing down on earth, about to cause unknowable damage. How can one be a serious police detective when most people are preparing for the end of the world? Read this to discover the answer.
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on April 23, 2017
I really like Detective Palace. Very good "bones" as far as the structure of the mystery is concerned but it is remarkable against the backdrop of the end of the earth is coming and now we know the exact date! [shudder] Could you keep coming to work? I've seen the book described as a genre mash-up and I have to agree that is an apt description. Very good!
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on March 22, 2017
The idea is what sold me and what I enjoyed, some of the cliches, "higher than satellites" for example really stood out and interrupted the flow of the story. Good lead character, nice setting description, and the idea is great. I read it while on vacation and it was great for that.
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on May 26, 2013
Interesting concept that had me thinking lots of "what if" scenarios. What if our current political leaders were faced with this type of scenario? Can any major secret be kept under wraps in today's society? What would I do in this situation? Worth your time!
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