The Last Policeman, a Book Review by Kimberley O’Brien Chicago

o this book had quite an interesting premise:  A police officer finally makes detective in the months before a giant asteroid is supposed to hit earth and destroy society as we know it.  Sound intriguing? Kimberley O’Brien certainly thought so.  The book is set in New Hampshire, but it could really be set anywhere:  Chicago, Madison, Denver, you name it.  The police force has been considerably downsized as most laws are not being enforced very much.  At this point, it’s really safe to say that the police are only there to keep the peace and try to prevent complete anarchy as the world awaits its fate.  But a few crimes are still enforced:  Things like rape and abuse are still investigated.  So are drug crimes (drug use has skyrocketed in this world – and why not?  People are desperate and depressed and looking for a way to forget their troubles, and so drugs are a natural choice.  And there’s also an epidemic of suicides.  Detective Hank Palace has always wanted to be a police detective so it’s a bitter irony that he finally gets the promotion about a week after scientists discover the asteroid.  But Hank is dedicated, so when he gets called to the scene of a so-called “suicide” that doesn’t quite look right, he decides to take the case – even though his dedication is the subject of much abuse and derision by his colleagues.  They are all convinced that Hank is barking up the wrong tree, and they all try to convince him that the crime was just another tragic case of suicide – but no matter how much they try to deter him, Detective Hank Palace insists on doing a full investigation – and he learns some surprising things along the way.

Kimberley O’Brien thought this was an interesting take on the whole end of the world genre. Most of these books tend to focus on the survival aspect – usually there are people living in the woods and hunting and using kerosene lamps and things like that. But this book takes a different approach by examining the world right before a major catastrophe.  So the result is a very familiar world. Most things are still the same in this world.  There are coffee shops and fast-food restaurants. People still live in houses and drive cars.  But the legal system has changed.  There aren’t lawsuits or court cases.  School isn’t quite mandatory any more.  Criminal justice isn’t the same.

The book strings you along as you wait for two mysteries to unravel: First of all, there’s the case of the suicide that Detective Palace insists is a murder.  He gradually begins to learn more about the victim and the people who knew him and he quickly begins to suspect that the case is much more complicated than anyone thought.  The second mystery is the mystery of the asteroid – specifically, when and where the asteroid is going to hit.  The book is well written enough that you care to stick with it to the end to learn the answers.

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