The Last Policeman

I finished another post apocalyptic science fiction novel recently called “The Last Policeman” and really enjoyed it. The last book I finished was, while not exactly disappointing, not as engaging as it could have been. TLP is a human interest story if ever there was one. The premise is suggested in the title: there is an impending doom, an asteroid heading towards Earth. Several Km across, it will if not destroy at least severely limit all life on earth, specially human life and definitely life as we know it. The exact date the asteroid will impact is already known, though the place is not revealed until later in the novel, but the impending doom is more of a backdrop than a plot point. This story is a mystery, a murder staged as a suicide at a time when suicide is a popular choice across the board. The character is a detective, recently promoted due to… losses in the force. He is young, but has good instincts and has not left his post, not for anything. The atmosphere is a combination of pre-apocalyptic and charmingly mundane.

The plot, the mystery, is not particularly original. The culprit is somewhat easy to figure out and the steps the detective takes are about par for the course for a mystery. What truly sets this novel apart is the human aspect. What happens when you have six months left? What if everyone on the whole earth has only six months left? What happens when everyone in the world decides to pursue their ‘bucket list’ and leave their work and family behind? They are called ‘bucket listers’ in the novel and are the reason for many vacancies in the ranks of business and industry. Those who stay behind do so because they already are where they want to spend the rest of their lives, they are too scared to run off, or they don’t have the resources to do so. Emergency laws are enacted authorizing the death penalty for drug related crimes while at the same time illegal drug use skyrockets. Marijuana is decriminalized in the hopes that harder drugs will be less desirable. Our hero has to deal with mundane results of extraordinary circumstances, for example being unable to access criminal records from Colorado because there has been some sort of rioting that destroyed critical infrastructure. The local McDonalds is no longer affiliated with the franchise because it collapsed. The government tries to reign in inflation with price controls but the detective casually leaves a thousand dollar tip. It’s the day-to-day life of a man who feels like doing the right thing, set in between the lives of people facing the end of their world. The juxtaposition of our protagonist’s almost disregard for the impending disaster and the rest of the world’s insanity is both bizarre and thought provoking. It’s not only a question of what would you do, but the certainty that life can go on despite whatever else threatens it.

The plot does have some interesting and unexpected twists, and more deaths than I had anticipated. The novel covers the span of a week or so meaning the reader doesn’t get to see the asteroid hit, we don’t see the end of the world, we just see a bit of it. As usual with science fiction it’s not the plot as much as the universe that most interests me. The more mundane the activities of our hero the more humanized the impending doom and people’s reaction to it. I feel as though I’m not getting the feeling across very well. It would be like calmly filing paperwork on the top floor of the first tower on 9/11: nothing on the floor will ever be seen by another human being. It doesn’t matter if the paperwork gets filed, but you do it because it’s what you do, and it makes you feel better. It’s almost comical the level of calm detachment the detective has about the end of the world and it’s absolutely the most interesting part of the book.

It’s an easy read, and not very long as scifi novels go. I would recommend this novel both for its thought provoking power and for its sheer entertainment value. The writing is clear and engaging, pacing is good, and the little details add a sense of the philosophical. Overall a good read.