Countdown City

Countdown City is the second of three novels by Ben Winters. The Last Policeman is the first and you can find it reviewed here.

The world is falling into chaos. Former detective Hank Palace accepts a request from an old friend to find her husband. In a world full of suicides, murders, drugs, stockpiling, scammers, conspiracy theorists, and ‘bucket listers’ this is no easy task. Armed with only his dog, his police issued pistol, and a hunch he does the best he can to connect the dots and find the missing man. What use is it if the world is ending in three months? No use, but Officer Palace has always been a detective and this is how he chooses to live his last few months: with integrity and the best way he can.

While the novel is on its face a mystery, the setting is what makes it remarkable. Through the eyes of the kind of person who doesn’t leave his post, Winters explores just how quickly and in what ways our world would destroy itself given the chance. Not physically with the impending meteor but psychologically as people face their end. Death is a certainty in our lives, of course, but we can almost always imagine we have more time than we really do. The entire world is diagnosed terminal and instead of a few cancer patients running off to enjoy their last months it’s the entire world. People delude themselves into thinking there is a chance in the world after the asteroid hits, when a thick layer of ash fills the atmosphere and induces an ice age. It’s the same hope we all have: that there might be more time than we thought, our lives might go on, and happily so, eventually. The result of this hope is fierce competition for resources. The tiny town in the middle of nowhere devolves first into a tense community that is slowly hemorrhaging members and resources then into a faceless mob, tearing through and murdering everyone they can find.

Winters watches this devolution through the eyes of Officer Palace and projects an outcome for humankind that is highly unsavory. That is what fascinates me about this series. The characters are all well written and the plot moves enough to keep it interesting, but the real truth is the fall of man.

The third book hasn’t been completed yet and I’m curious to watch the final two months before the meteor hits. It feels like there isn’t any further down for humanity to go so I’m interested in the author’s projections. So far I recommend them both. Light reading, entertaining, and thought provoking but only if you let it, it won’t pressure you into intellectuality.