In Countdown City, Book II of The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters Henry Palace is no longer a police detective or even, in fact, a policeman at all. For a while the police who were not detectives kept order in Concord, New Hampshire. As it gets closer and closer to the date of the impact of Maia, the asteroid, 6.5 kilometers in diameter, with the earth the police disappear from the street corners and civilization moves down another notch towards anarchy.
People have already been informed that Maia will hit in Indonesia. Boatloads of people from the target area are arriving at American shores daily and, although there is no visible central government in America somehow the “refugees” fleeing the impact zone are being kept out of the American interior. There are stories of internment camps.
Henry meets his fellow detectives daily at the diner where Ruth Ann, their favorite waitress, takes their orders as usual, although pretty much all she can serve them is tea (sadly coffee is unavailable). Henry Palace may have been released by the Concord Police Department but he cannot stop being a policeman. He even has a new case much to the amusement of his fellow retired detectives.
It’s personal. Martha Milano has lost her husband. She is now Martha Cavatone and her husband, Brett, age 33, is missing. She wants him back. She was Henry’s babysitter for a time and he likes her. He promises to try to find her husband, even though almost all people in America are now missing persons, and he knows where to begin – at Rocky’s Rock ‘n’ Bowl where Martha’s dad still serves something that is as close to pizza as he can make it and offers up the old bowling allies for sharpshooter practice. Everyone in America has guns and plans to use them if necessary. When Henry asks what to do if Brett won’t come home Martha says “Tell him his salvation depends on it.”
Henry Palace has a sister. He and his sister lost their mother when they were young. She was in an accident. His dad, the professor, who left behind the blue books that Henry uses for notes in his investigations, died shortly after his wife so Henry and his younger sister were raised somewhat haphazardly by their grandfather. Nico, Henry’s sister never followed rules. In school she went her own way, whether she got in trouble or not. As an adult she still has that revolutionary spirit. She flits in and out of Henry’s life hinting at a mission that could save earth from that collision with Maia. Henry is feeling like he hasn’t seen his sister for a while and he needs to see her. To Henry she is another missing person.
As far as Henry is concerned the rule of law has broken down so far that even if Nico is not just a mad dreamer, even if she and her mysterious cohorts can actually move the asteroid with a near-asteroid explosion, law and order, civilization as we know it, cannot be put back together again. Henry also realizes that if the asteroid does collide with earth we will lose more than law and order: he realizes that all living things will die. However he would still like to see his sister.
If you tag along with Henry and his little dog Houdini, the Bichon frizé he rescued from the drug dealer in Book I, you won’t be disappointed. You will be amazed at what Henry will do to get answers and how very dedicated he is to being a great policeman, even if he is the last. The second book is even better than the first and the ending has some surprises in store. I have already dived into Book III.
I recommend that you don’t start Book II until you know you have access to Book III or you will feel the way Henry feels when he can no longer get coffee. These books are not densely literary but they are very enjoyable and as we try to get through recent days when apocalypse does not seem impossible these books do make you speculate about what life would be like in America if we had to contend with anarchy.
By Nancy Brisson
<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>