Audiobook Review: The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

21 09 2012

The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

Read by Peter Berkrot

Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 20 Min

Genre: Pre-Apocalyptic Police Procedural

Quick Thoughts: The Last Policeman is the rare novel that is willing to break away from traditional genres and effectively blends two very different styles for something fresh. Crime fiction fans will enjoy the stripping away of investigative tools and Post Apocalyptic fans will enjoy Winter’s depiction of the methodic breakdown off society. While the slow pacing can give it a plodding feel, the reader is rewarded with a strong finale which opens as many doors as it closes. 

Grade: B

One of my favorite little pearls of wisdom that I like to share to those who bother to listen to me is that you never truly know someone until you have been through the bad times with them. Most people, my optimistic side likes to believe, have no problems being selfless and charitable when things are good, but put the same person in a life or death struggle, and often that selflessness goes right out the window. This is one of my favorite aspects about Post Apocalyptic fiction. Just how far a good person would go to protect themselves and those they love when the world turns to shit. Yet, I think there is an interesting added development in Pre-Apocalypse novels like The Last Policeman and Jack McDevitt’s Moonfall. What if you know that in 6 Months time, you and probably the rest of the world will be wiped off the face of our planet. Will you grab a hold of something, like family, religion or even your job, or would you throw off your everyday entanglements and embrace your final moments, taking the chance to experience things you always wanted but were hampered by responsibility. I think many people would be surprised by their own actions. Normal people would turn into hoarders, and the most responsible among us very may abandon all they built to live for one last fling. Many would embrace despair, and either go into an intense state of denial, or become suicidal. For me, personally, I would want to see how the world ends. I am a big fan of people watching, and I think observing the world in its death throws would be too interesting an opportunity to give up. Maybe that’s a bit sadistic, on my part but I accept that.

Hank Palace always dreamed of becoming a detective in the small city of Concord, NH but a massive asteroid on a direct collision course with Earth was never part of the dream. While much of the world has seemed to give up, Hank still believes in his job. When called into an apparent suicide in a MacDonald’s bathroom, something about the body of the dead insurance man just didn’t seem right. Believing it to be a murder, Hank pursues the case, attempting to find justice in a dying world. The Last Policeman is a moody police procedural set against the backdrop of an impending apocalypse. The plot of the investigation is interesting, but like many of Hank’s colleagues, I had trouble really caring about the victim or just why he was murdered. What I did find fascinating was the obstacles that the culture of apathy set in his way. Many of the typical police resources where either unavailable to Hank, or he had to fight to make others care enough to actually contribute. As a fan of procedural thrillers, this was actually a nice little spin, and while I may not have been sold on the investigation, the process that Hank used made up for it. Yet, the true beauty of the novel comes in its characterizations. Everyone in the novel has some level of either obsession, or extreme apathy. Hank is a bit of a boy scout, wanting to do things right, wanting to his job to mean something. He despises the various obsessions of those he interacts with, particularly those fascinated by the religion or the planet‘s impending doom, yet his level of obsession seems just as dysfunctional. It seemed, as we moved through the plot, he was more interested in discovering the story and finding a motive that makes sense, than in actually finding justice for his victim. It’s cleverly done by Winters and it defied my expectations. The pacing itself is slower than your typical thriller, spending a lot of time on Hank’s internal dialogue. This can get a bit frustrating and repetitive, but it gives us many interesting incites into the mind of a man who knows he’s doomed. The Last Policeman is the rare novel that is willing to break away from traditional genres and effectively blends two very different styles for something fresh. Crime fiction fans will enjoy the stripping away of investigative tools and Post Apocalyptic fans will enjoy Winter’s depiction of the methodic breakdown off society. While the slow pacing can give it a plodding feel, the reader is rewarded with a strong finale which opens as many doors as it closes. 

Peter Berkrot gives a well reasoned, smart reading of The Last Policeman. Berkrot has a natural gift for creating characters you can engage with. Here, Berkrot seems to have given a lot of thought into each character. Winter’s places lot of seeds early into his characters that you don’t see fully grown until later in the story. Berkrot’s characterizations help develop the characters. You can feel the transformation, characters giving into their obsessions. Berkrot will quicken the pace of some characters as they become more and more unhinged and slow down others as they retreat into themselves. It’s a good example of how a well studied narrator can enhance a production. Berkrot does have a sarcastic edge to his voice that works well with some of the peripheral characters, but sometimes gives choir boy Hank a bit too much of an edge. Luckily, that wasn’t too distracting, and Berkrot more than makes up for this in many other areas. Berkrot is rapidly becoming one of those narrators that I trust to read almost anything. His performance in The Last Policeman only strengthens this belief. With two more books in this series scheduled, I for one hope that Peter Berkrot sticks around to bring them to life for us.

Note: Thanks to Brilliance Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

This review is part of my weekly “Welcome to the Apocalypse” theme. Click on the image below for links to more posts.

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5 responses

21 09 2012
russell1200

A very interesting review on a rather curious book.

I tend to call these apocalypse in progress, but I have to concede that that is a bit of a mouthful. Pre-apocalypse though seems almost too open ended. Arguably almost every novel written before they knew there was going to be a meteor is about “pre-” topics. There has to be better phrasing out there somewhere.

Since we all live before our own eventual ending, the meteor scenario tends to sharpen the distinctions. The real change is of course the immediacy and clarity of the end, but I think more importantly the lack of possible continuaty. Your efforts won’t make a difference down the road.

21 09 2012
DevourerofBooks (@DevourerofBooks)

I LOVE when the narration can actually develop the characters/story. That’s a good use of audio.

23 09 2012
Chinoiseries

The Last Policeman is on my tbr, yours is the first review I’ve read so far. And I’m glad that it is a good one 🙂 I don’t know about human nature in the face of apocalpyse… having just read I Am Legend, I found that I could not relate to its protagonist at all. But on the other hand, how would I respond to such a calamity? Would I revert to a cruder version of myself, in order to survive? Seen in that light, you may be right that people lose their polite, caring selves.

30 12 2012
montsamu

Finally got to this one. Nearing the end and really really liking it.

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