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A Reader of Fictions: Review: Countdown City

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review: Countdown City

Countdown City
The Last Policeman, Book 2

Author: Ben H. Winters
Pages: 320
Publisher: Quirk Books
Publication Date: July 16, 2013
Read: July 5-8, 2013
Source: ARC from publisher for review/BEA

Description from Goodreads:
There are just 74 days to go before a deadly asteroid collides with Earth, and Detective Hank Palace is out of a job. With the Concord police force operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, Hank's days of solving crimes are over...until a woman from his past begs for help finding her missing husband.

Brett Cavatone disappeared without a trace—an easy feat in a world with no phones, no cars, and no way to tell whether someone’s gone “bucket list” or just gone. With society falling to shambles, Hank pieces together what few clues he can, on a search that leads him from a college-campus-turned-anarchist-encampment to a crumbling coastal landscape where anti-immigrant militia fend off “impact zone” refugees.

The second novel in the critically acclaimed Last Policeman trilogy, Countdown City presents a fascinating mystery set on brink of an apocalypse--and once again, Hank Palace confronts questions way beyond "whodunit." What do we as human beings owe to one another? And what does it mean to be civilized when civilization is collapsing all around you?

Previous Book in Series:
1: The Last Policeman

First Sentence: "'It's just that he promised,' says Martha Milano, pale eyes flashing, cheeks flushed with anxiety."

Last year, I read and quite enjoyed the first book in Ben H. Winter's pre-apocalyptic trilogy, so I was looking forward to Countdown City. I was, however, also quite concerned I wouldn't like it, because my memories of The Last Policeman were sketchy at best and I had no time for a reread. While most of the plot of The Last Policeman remains a mystery, Winters' Countdown City is still enjoyable on its own right and the great world building remains consistent with the first book.

You know how some people love to work, and wouldn't know what to do with free time if they had it? The ones who are workaholics and drive their spouses up the wall when they try to retire? Well, Henry Palace is that kind of guy. Even though the world is ending, he can't bear to sit still and wait for it. Though the detective division of the precinct has been closed and he has been let go, he still needs a mystery to keep himself occupied, to help distract him from the world's impending destruction. These individual mysteries form story arcs for each novel in the series, as the end of the world ticks closer.

Why is the world ending? An asteroid. Humans will be going the way of the dinosaurs in less than three months. Most fascinating about Countdown City is the variety of human responses to impending demise. Some, like Henry, continue to go about their daily life as normally as possible. Those with means embark on their bucket lists, desperate to live their few remaining days to the fullest. Religious groups and radical organizations grow up overnight. Massive governmental changes occur, as the question of what's really worth the effort comes to the forefront.

Already from The Last Policeman, the mood has shifted. Where the bulk of life was unchanged from normal, only with additional panic, in the first book, the world is already unrecognizable. Cops no longer investigate crimes, only around to keep some semblance of order. Food is already running out or not getting distributed well. Abandoned children are everywhere, parents gone bucket list, killed, or having committed suicide. As the days pass, violence and crime increase, as society rips apart at the seems in the anticipation of the end. It's this depiction that Winters does so well, and that makes Countdown City such a compelling read.

Though not a particularly character-driven book, there's still something appealing about Henry's narration. He feels a bit remote, despite the first person narration, and yet I feel a good deal of affection for him. Perhaps the distance comes from the fact that I know he, and everyone else, will die, so I'm not all that caught up in his survival. He's also very much a detective, procedural and stern. However, there's also a humor and an honesty to Palace's narration that keeps him from feeling flat.

The weak point of Countdown City is actually the mystery arc. It's entertaining enough, but didn't really hold my interest like the broader setting. The resolution of it, too, I found a bit anticlimactic. Of course, this does dovetail with the fact that the mystery isn't the point; the mystery serves merely as a distraction for Henry from what's coming.

I highly recommend Ben H. Winters' Last Policeman trilogy to readers who appreciate excellent world building or who are intrigued by a pre-apocalyptic scenario. I look forward to finding out precisely how Winters will finish out this trilogy.

Rating: 3.5/5

Favorite Quote: "Respectfully, sir, the asteroid did not make you leave her. The asteroid is not making anyone do anything. It's just a big piece of rock floating through space. Anything anyone does remains their own decision."

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Blogger Amy said...

This series sounds interesting. I love mysteries, but if this one wasn't really holding your attention, it might not be great for me. Fab review!!

July 9, 2013 at 12:18 PM  
Blogger Kayla Beck said...

I just got an ARC of this and a copy of The Last Policeman, but I haven't read them. I just finished Tumble & Fall, which is another asteroid book, and I need to cleanse my palate. I am more interested in reading them now!

July 9, 2013 at 3:29 PM  
Blogger Christina said...

They're fun! Please tell me the needfulness of a palette cleanser isn't because T&F is bad. *pleads*

July 9, 2013 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger Christina Reads YA said...

Truthfully mystery arcs rarely ever hold my interest completely unless they're in fantasy stories where it's impossible to really know the details of what will happen. Otherwise it seems too easy to guess, or it's just hard to get into... But I am definitely intrigued by the pre-apocalyptic world, and the details of the character interactions and panic seem to really cement the idea of it all. I hadn't heard of this one before, so thanks for introducing me to the series!

July 9, 2013 at 5:16 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm not going to lie: The first thing I thought when I first read that synopsis was, "If there are only 74 days until the end of the world, is finding your missing husband really the top priority?" It seems a little strange, but who am I to judge?

That said, I do love the idea of the looming end of the world and what effect this will have on everyone. I can't even imagine how I would act in that sort of situation. The possibilities are seemingly endless as to what Winters could do with that concept. His approach sounds particularly thoughtful and compelling, and I'm definitely interested in beginning this series for an examination of that alone.

July 9, 2013 at 11:48 PM  
Blogger Becky LeJeune said...

Oh, there are just not enough hours in the day. Fresh off a vacation with promising reading progress and I still need more time to catch up on everything (namely THE LAST POLICEMAN so I can read the newly arrived COUNTDOWN CITY). Slowly but surely I'm digging myself out of the overwhelming backed up pile of review books!

July 10, 2013 at 11:49 AM  

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