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A Reader of Fictions: It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) - R.E.M.

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Friday, June 29, 2012

It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) - R.E.M.

The Last Policeman
The Last Policeman, Book 1

Author: Ben H. Winters
Pages: 316
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication Date:  If pre-publication
Source: Review copy from Quirk Books in exchange for an awesome review

Description from Goodreads:
What's the point of solving murders if we're all going to die soon, anyway?

Hank Palace, a homicide detective in Concord, New Hampshire, asks this question every day.

Most people have stopped doing whatever it is they did before the asteroid 2011L47J hovered into view. Stopped selling real estate; stopped working at hospitals; stopped slinging hash or driving cabs or trading high-yield securities. A lot of folks spend their days on bended knee, praying to Jesus or Allah or whoever they think might save them. Others have gone the other way, roaming the streets, enjoying what pleasures they can before the grand finale. Government services are beginning to slip into disarray, crops are left to rot.

When it first appeared, 2011L47J was just a speck, somewhere beyond Jupiter's orbit. By mid-October it revealed itself to be seven kilometers in diameter, and on a crash course with the Earth. Now it's March, and sometime in September, 2011L47J will slam into our planet and kill half the population immediately, and most of the rest in the miserable decades that follow.

All of humanity now, every person in the world--we're like a bunch of little kids, in deep, deep trouble, just waiting till our dad gets home. So what do I do while I wait? I work.

Today, Hank Palace is working the case of Peter Zell, an insurance man who has comitted suicide. To his fellow police officers, it's just one more death-by-hanging in a city that sees a dozen of suicides every week. But Palace senses something wrong. There's something odd about the crime scene. Something off. Palace becomes convinced that it's murder. And he's the only one who cares.

What's the difference, Palace? We're all gonna die soon, anyway.

As Palace digs deeper, we are drawn into his world. We meet his sister Nico and her screwup boyfriend, Derek, who are trying to beam S.O.S messages into outer space; we meet Erik Littlejohn, a "spiritual advisor" helping his clients through these difficult times. Palace's investigation plays out under the long shadow of 2011L47J, forcing everyone in the book -- and those reading it-- to confront hard questions way beyond "whodunnit." What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?

First Sentence: "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 feeling, like holy moly this is real, and I don't know if I'm ready, I really don't."

Through the wonder that is Twitter, I made a connection with someone at Quirk Books. I wasn't searching for their review copies actually, but one of their people was offering up another book I really wanted to read to a reviewer (Note to self: read that book) and I responded. I didn't even follow him, but saw the message through a retweet. Anyway, when he emailed me about that book, he asked if I would like to review for Quirk Books. I looked at their catalog and gave a tentative yes, mostly on the proviso that I would review if they published something I was interested in. Well, the first book offered was The Last Policeman, and, yes, I was interested.

The Last Policeman has an awesome premise. It is what I would call pre-apocalyptic, which is something I've read a couple of recently (another such book being Unraveling). In these books, everyone knows the world's going to end, or at least they expect it. The world could go post-apocalyptic, but it might get saved. As a huge dystopian/post-apocalyptic fan, I am naturally intrigued by these.

In The Last Policeman, a tremendously gimongous asteroid is going to collide with the earth. The scientists have proved it, and there's no way out of it. A lot of people will die immediately and the rest will hang on for a while in post-apocalyptic conditions, but odds of survival for anyone are low. The asteroid is coming in mere months.

What's so fascinating is that this shows you the response of society. Of course, society kind of falls apart. Suicides become commonplace, people abandon workplaces to go in pursuit of their bucket lists, drug use skyrockets. All of this in an attempt to squeeze the most life possible out of what time remains, or to avoid the inevitable conclusion by concluding everything immediately. From a philosophical standpoint, this question of how the world would react in the face of such inevitable destruction is incredibly riveting. Winters does an amazing job showing a number of different possibilities.

Like with a number of the books I've read recently, though, I didn't hugely connect to the characters. With the number of books this has happened in, I'm starting to wonder if the problem is me. Either way, this was my personal reaction. I do like Henry. I like his dedication to his job, and I do think it's true to life that some people would be so much more comfortable with the end of the world if they just ignored it, focusing on their day to day lives.

Henry focuses on this possible murder case, desperate to solve it, despite the fact that, ultimately, it won't matter. At most, the murderer, if there is one, will die earlier or spend his last few months in prison. They're still all going to die. Perhaps this futility is what kept me from caring about the characters? I don't know, but Henry was the only one I bonded with at all, and, even then, I was not particularly bothered about whether he got what he wanted.

This is my first experience with Quirk Books, aside from the Pride & Prejudice & Zombies books, and I'm glad that I gave them another go. I highly recommend this lightly humorous and bleak novel as a readalike of The Postmortal. The concept and clever writing definitely make this a worthwhile read.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Quote:
"‘He books it into that little playground there. I mean the guy is zooming like the Road Runner, skidding through the gravel and the slush and everything. I’m yelling, “Police, police! Stop, motherfucker!”
     ‘You do not yell, “Stop, motherfucker.”’
     ‘I do. Because you know, Palace, this is it. This is the last chance I get to run after a perp yelling, “Stop, motherfucker.”"
"Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped
Look at that low plane, fine, then
Uh-oh, overflow, population, common group
But it'll do, save yourself, serve yourself
World serves its own needs, listen to your heart bleed
Tell me with the Rapture and the reverent in the right, right
You vitriolic, patriotic, slam fight, bright light
Feeling pretty psyched

It's the end of the world as we know it

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Blogger Nori said...

This isn't normally my thing, but the story sounds super interesting. It kind of reminds me of the new movie that came out called, "Seeking a friend for the end of the world."

June 29, 2012 at 11:35 PM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

This is one of those rare books that sound like they were written for me especially. I love science fiction murder mysteries, and it's been far too long since I've read one. I think it's time to order some science fiction for the Bucketpunch branch... Also - great review! :-D

June 30, 2012 at 11:21 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

Awww! Yay, I love when authors write books for me. I'm pretty sure For Darkness Shows the Stars was written for me. :)

You should definitely read it, Kayla. I think you'll like it.

June 30, 2012 at 11:33 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

I should probably have heard of this movie...I have not.

June 30, 2012 at 11:34 AM  

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