Note: There are no spoilers, except as clearly marked.
This is Book Three in a pre-apocalyptic/noir/police-procedural series set in more-or-less current times.
Henry (“Hank”) Palace, 29, is a police detective in Concord, New Hampshire, who got promoted from patrol officer because basically everybody else walked off the job. In fact, people all over the world walked off their jobs, because “Maia,” a 6.5-kilometer-diameter asteroid, is on a collision course with the earth. It will, according to reliable sources, cause a series of interlocking cataclysms resulting in the immediate death of at least half the world’s population, with later deaths to follow.
In the first book in this trilogy, The Last Policeman, there were six months left until the date of collision. In Book Two, Countdown City, only 77 days remained. In this final installment of the series, there are 14 days left until impact.
In the previous books, we learned that many people have committed suicide, committed murder, joined religious sects, zoned out on drugs, or got to work stocking up a basement with any supplies that could be saved or stolen. But being a policeman is what has always made sense to Hank, so that’s what he still does, even without pay.
Now he is using what he thinks is his remaining time to find his younger sister Nico. Nico, long a rebel and an iconoclast, is part of a group that contends the path of the asteroid can be diverted by a pinpoint nuclear explosion, with a theoretical success probability of 85%. The group believes that the government has imprisoned the scientist who can make this “standoff burst” happen, and so they are working against the cosmic clock to try to free him and save the world.
In Book Two, Hank got impatient and angry with Nico:
I told her this was delusional. I told her this was Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy and she was being a fool, and then she disappeared and I let her go.”
In this book, although Hank still believes that he is right and Nico is wrong, he is obsessed with finding her in order to make up for their final bitter conversation, hug her, and apologize for letting her go. Hank and Nico are polar opposites, but they love each other; they are all each other has left of a family. Hank cannot bear to think of not reconciling before whatever is coming. But concurrent with his quest, he feels compelled to keep trying to help uphold the moral order and “do the right thing”, even though there is no longer much justification for any of it.
WARNING: SKIP THIS NEXT SECTION TO AVOID SPOILERS AND SCROLL DOWN TO EVALUATION.
What makes this pre-apocalyptic trilogy unique is that Winters actually allows the apocalypse to happen. There are no last minute saves, no dei ex machina, no Bill Pullman getting in the fighter plane and taking out the enemy. The world ends. Before it does so, Winters takes us on a tour of most of the possible reactions you might see to impending doom by an approaching asteroid: religious hysteria, crime sprees, sex sprees, psychosis, drugs, denial – but then there is Hank Palace, keeping on keeping on, cycling through the country in search of his younger sister. He is almost oblivious to the dangers that keep getting thrown in his path; nothing can stop him in his crusade. And in the end, he experiences a kind of redemption, in a lovely bittersweet dénouement reminiscent of On the Beach by Nevil Shute (a story known to most people by the still-amazingly good 1959 movie adaptation starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins).
END OF SPOILERS
Evaluation: I thought this third book was the best in the series, rather than following the usual pattern of a trilogy starting out great and then petering out by the end. Although I never really connected with either Hank or Nico, the story certainly is thought-provoking – what would you do, if you thought the world would end in six months?
Published by Quirk Books, 2014