Audiobook Review: Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

16 08 2013

Countdown City (The Last Policeman, Bk. 2) by Ben H, Winters

Read by Peter Berkrot

Brilliance Audio

Length: 8 Hrs 18 Min

Genre: Apocalyptic Fiction

Quick Thoughts: Countdown City is a bigger, better novel than The Last Policeman that manages to maintain the uniqueness that made the first novel special. Winter’s continues to expand his world in interesting new ways while setting in motion its ultimate destruction. Countdown City is a novel that will please both mystery fans and Apocalyptic Fiction fanatics, and fill with orgasmic pleasure those who love both.

Grade: A-

Since I first heard about Ben H. Winter’s The Last Policeman series, about a policeman who continues to investigate crimes despite the fact that an asteroid is due to strike Earth, people have been describing it as a Pre-Apocalypse novel. This was the mindset I took into it when reading The Last Policeman, and its sequel Countdown City. Now, on reflection, I think that classification is wrong. It all comes down to how you define Apocalyptic. For some people, in order for a novel to be truly apocalyptic, an event must occur that devastates the entire world. I have even heard some say that unless over 90% of the population dies, it’s not truly a Post Apocalyptic novel. I have always disagreed with this thinking. I define an apocalyptic event as something that has drastically affected the established order of society, leading to some type of regression. Another argument that I tend to have with other fans of apocalyptic fiction comes in defining the catalyst for said devastation. Some people require a distinct physical event, like an asteroid strike, a plague, a nuclear war or an alien invasion for a novel to truly be Post Apocalyptic. These events lead to two succinct differing eras, a Pre period and a post Period. Before the asteroid strike there wasn’t an apocalypse, afterward there was, simple. Yet, I think this idea downplays social causes for apocalyptic upheaval, or what I like to call a "slow boil" apocalypse.  A series of rolling events like economic collapse, localized natural disasters, political upheaval, social unrests or even scientific discoveries could lead to just as much devastation as a nuclear war or asteroid strike. Yet, for The Last Policeman, I would say there was a true event that led to an apocalyptic shift in the societal order, the announcement of the impending asteroid strike. This even lead to a drastic shift in the social, political and economic status of the world Ben H. Winters has created, and under my definition, that would make it an apocalyptic event. Through this, Winters has managed to flip the genre on its head, and explore aspects often neglected by other novels of this type, yet truly fitting the my classification of Post Apocalyptic.

With only 77 left until the asteroid 2011GV1 strikes the Earth, the last thing former Policeman Hank Palace should do is take on a pointless missing person case. With so many people going "Bucket List", using the last days to fulfill their ultimate fantasies, the likelihood that he could find a missing person and convince them to return were astronomically small. Yet, when it’s your former babysitter asking, how can you say no? Hank doesn’t, and his investigation has him following clues that lead him to black-market dealers, government atrocities, and a strange permissive independent state set up by university students with ties to his estranged sister.  Once again, Ben H. Winters manages to put together another solid mystery novel given even greater depth by the apocalyptic world in which it takes place. Hank’s investigative discoveries almost takes secondary status to the reader’s ability to discover the changes the world has undergone since the day the discovery of its pending destruction was announced. As a fan of both apocalyptic fiction and detective fiction, this series has the potential for the best combination of two things I love since someone discovers just how good peanut butter and chocolate go together. More importantly, Winter’s doesn’t fail to achieve, and may even have surpassed this potential. The mystery is superbly done, with a solid investigative process and lots of small twists that lead to the final big reveal that will surprise even veteran mystery fans. I found the mystery in Countdown City to be even better than the first novel in the series due to its grander scope and more complicated motivations. Here, the mystery and the apocalyptic world seemed to meld together more fluidly. Winters even managed to use my skeptical nature when it comes to fictional mysteries against me. I tend to be a person who assumes that what information I’m told is true, about someone’s character or motivations, is more often than not just a mask for their true nature. Yet, in Countdown City, that natural mystery reader’s skepticism is flipped on its head. I also truly love the world that Winter’s has created. I enjoyed getting a broader look at the world than just Concord City. Winter’s also builds more on the conflict between Hank and his sister, with effective results that truly builds excitement for the final novel of the trilogy. Countdown City is a bigger, better novel than The Last Policeman that manages to maintain the uniqueness that made the first novel special. Winter’s continues to expand his world in interesting new ways while setting in motion its ultimate destruction. Countdown City is a novel that will please both mystery fans and Apocalyptic Fiction fanatics, and fill with orgasmic pleasure those who love both.

Whenever I start a novel that is narrated by Peter Berkrot it takes me just a bit to adjust to his voice. Berkrot doesn’t have the typical BIG narrator voice that would sound perfect guiding us through the latest apocalyptic movie trailer. Instead, he has a voice that is full of character and unique enough to make it stand out. Berkrot gives another solid performance in Countdown City. He deftly switched between the absurdly sarcastic to the deadly serious with ease. It’s a truly human performance, where the characters may not always react in an appropriate way, but they do so in a natural way. His characters all come alive in unique ways, from the dark humor of Hank’s former colleagues, to the desperation of the betrayed wife. Yet, where Berkrot truly steps it up is in his delivery of one particular scene that borders on stream of consciousness. Without going too into spoilerific details, Berkrot captures the poetry of Winter’s prose during a scene that finds a character floating somewhere between life and death. It’s highly affective and slightly disorienting, and delivered perfectly. Countdown City is another wonderful trip into Winter’s world of impeding doom skillfully guided by the skills of the narrator.

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.





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.