Sep 14, 2014


"...But on the core fact there is one consensus: the asteroid 2011GV1, known as Maia, measuring six and a half kilometers in diameter and traveling at a speed of between thirty-five thousand and forty thousand miles per hour, will make landfall in Indonesia at an angle from horizontal of nineteen degrees. This will happen on October 3. A week from Wednesday, around lunchtime."
Detective Henry Palace returns in the third and final entry in the Last Policeman trilogy, Ben H. Winters' "existential detective series" about one man and the last few cases that fall in his lap leading to the end of days, caused by an asteroid that is on an unavoidable destructive path with the earth. In the first novel, The Last Policeman, Palace's case was his job; in the second, Countdown City, his case was a favor; and in this, the final hurrah for Henry Palace and all the other earthlings, his case is his most personal yet: his sister, Nico, has gone missing, and he's got to find her, desperate to make amends before Maia the asteroid comes along and puts an end to everything. Believing Nico to be in the company of other like-minded folks who are convinced they have found a way destroy the asteroid before it can touch down, Palace, along with his unlikely team of companions - Cortez, a man who'd attempted to kill him with a staple gun in the previous book, and Palace's rescue dog, Houdini - travel the ruined landscapes of America in an effort to find his missing sister. But, as is usually the case, there's more than just a missing sibling. There's two bloody trails leading in and out of an abandoned Ohio police station. There's the barely-alive young girl with the slit throat Palace found in the woods. And there's the missing scientist who may or may not be with this end-of-the-world group of would-be heroes insistent they know how to avert the apocalypse.

World of Trouble is a solid finale for a solid series. The world has continued to regress since the last book, and different factions of people are acting in different ways. Some have taken to the streets in groups of vigilantes to take over stores filled with potential rations; others hide in their homes behind drawn shades, clutching shotguns and nervously peering out windows. Two particular well-meaning teens let all the animals out of the zoo to prevent them from starving to death in captivity, and one of them being immediately cornered by a tiger. These details and the many more flesh out this pre-apocalyptic world and turn it into something both surreal but also entirely believable.

For his swan song, Winters has embraced an almost-The Road type device for his tale, which puts Hank Palace on a rather innocuous task (finding a sledgehammer to bust through a suspicious and newly-installed hatch in a police station parking garage floor), but during which Palace, instead, crosses paths with several different characters, all of whom are reacting to the end of times in very different ways. In prior Last Policeman novels, the characters with whom Palace interacted were all part of the larger mystery - the "point" of the respective novel. But now, instead, there is less of a focus on unraveling a mystery than there is immersing in the drama of this environment. The mystery is still front, center, and fully accounted for, but Winters is instead weaving human experience in and out of Palace's mystery. Each character provides a missing piece of the puzzle, sure, but they're also there to provide something else: humanity.

World of Trouble's ending is bittersweet, and obviously while I won't reveal if the world comes to an end, or if Nico's band of anti-asteroid misfits manage to come through and destroy the means in which the world will end, there's still an ending here:

Hank Palace has solved his last mystery.

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