Friday, May 31, 2013

Countdown City by Ben H. Winters

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What does it say that my first act upon opening this book was to look for what month is it? How close is the asteroid? Obviously, I've opted into Ben H. Winters' trilogy which began with The Last Policeman.

The Concord police department has been shut down by the federal Justice Department so Hank Palace is out of a job. Until, that is, an old friend asks him to help find her husband. In a world where going "Bucket List" is common there are very few ways to track someone down. There are no phones, no internet, and society is hanging on by a thread. Naturally, Hank can't turn down this plea and so he sets off to see what favors he can trade for information and access to some very dangerous areas.

Holy mackerel, what a fantastic second book! I don't usually get to say that so it is a particular pleasure to have loved this book so much.

It grabbed my attention in the beginning with a highly atypical sort of detail that communicated a lot to me, as a Catholic, about the wife.
Hung above the dresser is a small tasteful painting of Christ crucified. On the wall of the bathroom, next to the mirror, is a slogan in neat block all-capital letters: If you are what you should be, you will set the world ablaze!

"Saint Catherine," says Martha, appearing beside me in the mirror, tracing the words with her forefinger. "Isn't it beautiful?"


"This may seem like an obvious question," I say, when I'm done writing down her answers. "But what do you think he might be doing?"

Martha worries at the nail of her pinky. "I've thought about it so much, believe me. I mean, it sounds silly, but something good. He wouldn't be off bungee jumping or shooting heroin or whatever."...

"He'd be doing something, like, noble," Martha concludes. "Something he thought was noble"

I smooth the edges of my mustache. Something noble. A powerful thing to think about one's husband, especially one who's just disappeared without explanation.
It not only tells us about Martha and her trust in her husband, it sets us up to fear that he won't live up to that perfect faith. All done in less than a page. Nicely done.

Also, the author wasn't condescending about it. That is refreshing.

Ben Winters did a masterful job of making me intensely interested in the mystery. Simultaneously he showed some of the odd ways American society has mutated because of the impending asteroid strike. His single-minded hero forges ahead despite all obstacles because that's the only way he knows to tackle his problems.

I really enjoyed the fact that the characters seem very real. I was intensely anxious, for example, about Hank's dog, Houdini, when he took him along to infiltrate a college campus that has become an anarchist encampment. When Houdini is held hostage unless Hank returns within a specific time period, Hank (and I) became obsessed with getting back on time. And the result? Completely unexpected by Hank (or me). But absolutely typical and perfect. It was at this point that I tipped my hat to Mr. Winters.

This trilogy is shaping up to be a real classic for both the science fiction and mystery genres. I am looking forward with great anticipation to the end of the world, as seen by Detective Palace. The Last Detective and Countdown City are both going on my Best of 2013 list.

An Amazon Vine book, review copy.


  1. I just finished reading "The Last Policeman" last night which I greatly enjoyed and saw the next book was due in July.

    I just looked at the last Vine newsletter and found it was still available. Yeah! Still I preordered the ebook also.

    There was much I loved about this book. One that it kept me guessing throughout. There was a realism to the situation that really came out. I really like when someone can take an interesting idea and really make it come alive.

    There seem to be more and more SF/Mystery novels and good ones at that. I had also recently finished "The Man from Primrose Lane" which was also quite good.

    1. So glad you liked the first book. The things you mention are what I liked also ... and this book carries that on very well.

      I saw your review of The Man from Primrose Lane and that's now on my "to read" list ... Goodreads is really wonderful for that cross-pollination with people one book-stalks. :-)