Wednesday, 22 May 2013

A ReadItDaddy 'Daddy' review of Countdown City (The Last Policeman Book II) by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books)

Waiting for a star to fall?
We've previously reviewed the utterly fantastic "The Last Policeman" here at ReadItDaddy and we were delighted when Mat Archer got in touch to offer us the chance to take a look at Book II.

Ben H. Winters has obviously been a very busy man, polishing off the trilogy and various other writing in progress.

So "What did Hank Palace Do Next?"

We'll try to avoid specific spoilers for this book and "TLP" simply because we want you to get the maximum enjoyment out of Ben H. Winters' fantastic works. Here though the relatively normal and somewhat calm world of "TLP" gives way to the eroding of society, the slow drip-feed of inevitability as once again the world quivers in anticipation of a massive meteorite strike.

In "Countdown City" Ben H. Winters continues to chip away at all the things we hold dear and take for granted. In Hank Palace's world, people have gone "Bucket List" - their way of coping with impending doom is to go off and do crazy stuff. Anything but deal with the here and now, and the thought that as our various frameworks and infrastructures break down and dissipate, people show their true colours and either cope or give in.

Hank Palace, forcibly retired from the Police Force, still assumes the role of investigator and what at first seems like a fairly obvious missing persons case develops into something more far-reaching and sinister.

Hank doggedly pursues his lines of inquiry as the rest of the world either slowly rolls over and plays dead, or digs in with gritty determination that somehow there will be survivors of the impact. The more you read about Hank Palace, the more you realise that his single-mindedness is yet another form of human madness - albeit a more subtle one, one that's perhaps equally as sinister as the bucketlisters or the folk who abandon family and friends to quietly go insane elsewhere.

As Hank's latest case unfolds, we learn how he copes with grief (particularly events that unfolded in "The Last Policeman" and carry through into "Countdown City" as quiet sub-plots intertwined with the main grist of the storyline).

Above all though, the novel is utterly addictive and compelling - in some ways for the same reasons the original book was (for the questions it raises in your own mind - what WOULD you do if this happened?) but in other ways because it delves further into our own concept of civilisation and what happens when something puts a giant size 10 boot through everything we rely on and hold dear. Simple things like the availability of coffee (I think for me, this was probably one of the most harrowing messages conveyed in "Countdown City" - that a cataclysmic event such as the meteorite strike would pretty much scupper your ability to grab your daily caffeine fix!)

The plot this time round is darker, more disturbing - and though we still think of Hank Palace as a heroic and solid character who seems to be a lone voice of calm rationality in a world rapidly going to hell, in truth he's anything but. We also get to see first hand his fragility in the face of characters who truly have nothing to lose. As "Countdown City" draws to a fairly quiet close with little over a month and a half left before the meteorite strike, there are many plot threads left untied, and the overall sense that Hank still has his own inner demons to slay.

With book 3, we really cannot wait to see how Winters ties together the loose ends, and presents us with what should be a fantastic, cataclysmic finale. I wouldn't want to be under the sort of pressure he must be feeling right now, to deliver a conclusion that both satisfies and is on a grand enough scale to end a trilogy that has rocked my world, and so many other people's worlds too.