Henry (“Hank”) Palace 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 are walking off their jobs, because “Maia,” a 6.5-kilometer-diameter asteroid, is due to collide with the earth in six months. It will, according to reliable sources, cause a series of interlocking cataclysms resulting in the death of at least half the world’s population.
Palace is a bit unusual in his plodding, dogged pursuit of his job. More typical are scenarios like this:
“Last week in Kathmandu, a thousand pilgrims from all over southeast Asia walked into a massive pyre… In the American Midwest.. .the trend is firearms, a solid majority employing a shotgun blast to the brain.”
Others quit to pursue their “bucket lists”, get incapacitated by depression, or just quietly go insane. A stock market panic resulted in a rash of business failures, religiosity is rampant, and few see any point in working. Palace observes that there has been a “skyrocketing demand for every category of narcotic, for opiates, for Ecstasy, for methamphetamine, for cocaine in all its varieties.” Then there are the survivalists:
“People are building rocket ships, people are building tree houses, people are taking multiple wives, … people are studying to be doctors while doctors quit work and build huts in the desert and sit in them and pray.”
In Concord, suicide by hanging has caught on, so much so that it has been dubbed “Hanger Town.”
Palace thinks though that most people are like himself: just muddling along. But he admits the atmosphere is charged:
“I would characterize the mood, here in town, as that of the child who isn’t in trouble yet, but knows he’s going to be. He’s up in his room, waiting, ‘Just wait till your father gets home.’ He’s sullen and snappish, he’s on edge. Confused, sad, trembling against the knowledge of what’s coming next, and right on the edge of violence, not angry but anxious in a way that can easily shade into anger.”
But this is not quite all of it. Everyone, including Palace, suffers from what might be called a pre-traumatic stress syndrome:
“A loud and terrible noise is filling my room, a shrieking and violent eruption of sound rushing into the darkness, and I’m sitting up and I’m screaming. It’s here, I’m not ready, my heart is exploding in my chest because it’s here, it’s early, it’s happening now.
But it’s just my phone. The shrieking, the horrendous noise, it’s just the landline. I’m sweating, my hand clutched to my chest, shivering on my thin mattress on the floor that I call a bed.
It’s just my stupid phone.”
Palace’s coping strategy is to focus on his job, and he’s currently investigating a suicide that looks suspiciously like murder. The other police make fun of him – who cares at this point? – but Palace doesn’t give up. Much like Columbo, the television police lieutenant played by Peter Falk (1971-1978 and ever after in reruns), Palace seems naïve, shambling, disorganized and awkward. But also like Columbo, eventually his perseverance results in the crime being solved.
Evaluation: Hank Palace is a little too bumbling for me to feel very attached to him personally (I’m more of a Jack Reacher/Harry Hole kind of person), but the scenario of the book is great. The author does an excellent job of showing the myriad ways in which people might react to impending disaster and death, and gives readers a lot to think about. In the book trailer, shown below, you can get an idea of some of the reactions on display in the book. I can’t wait to see what happens as the asteroid closes in, which I will be able to see since this is only book one of a trilogy! Of course! (Thank heavens the asteroid will wait that long….)
Published by Quirk Books, 2012