My rating: 5 of 5 stars
What does it say that my first act upon opening this book was to look for what month it is? How close is the asteroid? Obviously, I’ve opted into Ben H. Winters’ trilogy which began with The Last Policeman.
Holy mackerel, what a fantastic second book! I don’t usually get to say that so it is a particular pleasure to have loved this book so much.
Ben Winters did a masterful job of making me intensely interested in the mystery when former police detective Hank Palace is asked by an old friend to find her missing husband. This is almost impossible in a world where going “Bucket List” is common and society is hanging on by a thread with no technological communications left. Of course, Hank can’t turn down this personal plea.
It grabbed my attention in the beginning with a highly atypical sort of detail that communicated a lot to me, as a Catholic, about the wife.
Hung above the dresser is a small tasteful painting of Christ crucified. On the wall of the bathroom, next to the mirror, is a slogan in neat block all-capital letters: If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze!
“Saint Catherine,” says Martha, appearing beside me in the mirror, tracing the words with her forefinger. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
“This may seem like an obvious question,” I say, when I’m done writing down her answers. “But what do you think he might be doing?”
Martha worries at the nail of her pinky. “I’ve thought about it so much, believe me. I mean, it sounds silly, but something good. He wouldn’t be off bungee jumping or shooting heroin or whatever.”…
“He’d be doing something, like, noble,” Martha concludes. “Something he thought was noble”
I smooth the edges of my mustache. Something noble. A powerful thing to think about one’s husband, especially one who’s just disappeared without explanation.
It not only tells us about Martha and her trust in her husband, it sets us up to fear that he won’t live up to that perfect faith. All done in less than a page. Nicely done.
Also, the author wasn’t condescending about it. That is refreshing.
Hank’s investigation gives Winters the perfect vehicle to simultaneously display some American society’s odd mutations in response to the impending asteroid strike. His single-minded hero forges ahead despite all obstacles because that’s the only way he knows to tackle his problems. This dual mystery-apocalyptic scene made a book I simply couldn’t put down.
I especially enjoyed the fact that the characters seem very real. I was intensely anxious, for example, about Hank’s dog, Houdini, when he took him along to infiltrate a college campus that has become an anarchist encampment. Houdini does indeed become threatened which becomes an obsessive worry for Hank (and me). And the result? Completely unexpected by Hank (or me). But absolutely typical and perfect. It was at this point that I tipped my hat to Mr. Winters.
This trilogy is shaping up to be a real classic for both the science fiction and mystery genres. I am looking forward with great anticipation to the end of the world, as seen by Detective Palace. The Last Detective and Countdown City are both going on my Best of 2013 list.
An Amazon Vine book, review copy.