Review of “Countdown City” by Ben H. Winters

This is Book Two in a ”pre”-apocalyptic/noir/humor/police-procedural series set in more-or-less current times several months before an asteroid is due to collide with the Earth. (See my review of Book One, The Last Policeman, here.)

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Henry (“Hank”) Palace is a former police detective living in Concord, New Hampshire. He was laid off like the other detectives, but he can’t seem to stop doing his job. As he himself recognizes:

There is an aspect of my character that tends to latch on to one difficult but potentially solvable problem, rather than grapple with the vast and unsolvable problem that would be all I could see, if I were to look up, figuratively speaking, from my small blue notebooks.”

He could go off to “bucket list” like many other people are doing, or join a religious sect, or become a “prepper” (building a stocked-up basement with any supplies that can be hoarded away), but being a policeman is what has always made sense to Hank, so that’s what he still does, even without pay.

As this second installment begins, there are only seventy-seven days until impact, but Hank has a new case. His former babysitter, Martha Milano, asks Hank for help because her husband has gone missing. Well, so have many others, but Hank promises to see what he can find out. With the mordant humor so prevalent in this series, Hank tells Martha it will be difficult: “There are just a lot of reasons why a missing-persons investigation is especially challenging in the current environment” (such as, for example, most of the police and any potential witnesses have gone missing themselves.) Still, Henry hates to disappoint people.

Henry needs to talk to some people downstate, but for this he has to enlist the aid of his “revolutionary” sister Nico. Durham has basically been turned into the Free Republic of New Hampshire, and as a former policeman and non-believer in their conspiracy theory about the asteroid, he would be unwelcome without Nico’s connections.

So off they go on their bicycles, with Henry towing his little Bichon Frisé Houdini in a wagon behind him. What Henry finds out shocks him, and changes his future – what little left of it there is.

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Evaluation: By and large this series isn’t “heavy” or depressing; it is replete with black humor and satirical commentary, and without doubt it is thought-provoking. In some ways, it reminds me of the great cult classic, This Is the Way The World Ends by James Morrow. This series is perhaps less intellectually and political hard-hitting, but it is more realistic, and therefore fills a different reader-niche than the Morrow book. This story actually seems like it could happen!

There are a couple of dei ex machinas at the end, but I suppose given the premise and all the wild goings-on in this story, one can’t complain about an occasional resort to a couple of felicitous plot contrivances!

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Quirk Books, 2013

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12 Responses

  1. I bet I’d like this — black humor can be fun.

  2. This sounds like a fun series. Very original idea, too. Well, now that I’m okay with dystopian, why not pre-apocalyptic, right?!

  3. I liked the first book in this series but didn’t love it so I decided not to read this one. I may have to rethink that.

  4. You definitely piqued my interest!

  5. Man, now I have read a review of The Last Policeman and its sequel back to back. SYNERGY. I just added The Last Policeman to my ebook wish list at both of my libraries. The universe wishes it so.

  6. I wanted to read the first book when everyone reviewed it, but just didn’t get to it. Or maybe I knew more books would be coming so I thought I’d wait? Who knows what I was thinking. So I am wondering how many books are supposed to be in the series…three? More? Do I need to get started or I’ll be left behind? Because this is right up my alley.

  7. There will be one more book, three in all!
    I like this one a lot, more than you even, and one big reason is that it does paint a picture that felt so real, that could happen it seems.

  8. I liked this one too although I wasn’t crazy about the resolution to the mystery of the missing husband. It was a “Huh? Where did that come from?” moment for me.

  9. I’ve never even heard of the author nor this series. Sounds different but one I would try.

  10. I’ve not heard of these books before your review. Sounds interesting. An apocalyptic police procedural is a bit different.

  11. I loved the first one and can’t wait to get my hands on this book. Just my luck that this book is not in any of my libraries. I’ll just go buy it, I guess.

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