Thursday, July 26, 2012

"The Last Policeman"

Ben H. Winters is the author of several novels, including the New York Times bestseller Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and the middle-grade novel The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, an Edgar Award nominee and a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of 2011. Winters’ other books include the science-fiction Tolstoy parody Android Karenina, the Finkleman sequel The Mystery of the Missing Everything, and the supernatural thriller Bedbugs, which has been optioned for the screen by Warner Brothers. Winters also wrote the book and lyrics for three musicals for young audiences: The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, A (Tooth) Fairy Tale, and Uncle Pirate, based on the award-winning children’s book by Douglas Rees.

He applied the Page 69 Test to his latest novel, The Last Policeman, and reported the following:
The Last Policeman falls into a couple different genre categories. It’s been called a science-fiction novel, but it’s really more speculative fiction: What would happen to civilization, and particularly to law enforcement, if a giant asteroid was on the way and we only had six months left?

But its other genre is the kind of mystery known as a “police procedural.” We follow a dedicated cop, Detective Henry Palace, as he works the clues to solve the murder of an insurance agent named Peter Zell. (At least, he thinks it’s a murder. Everybody else thinks Zell hanged himself.) Page 69 gets into the asteroid a bit, but it’s heavier on the police-procedural side.

Palace is in the midst of interviewing a witness, the victim’s brother-in-law, and takes a moment of reflection in which he performs what any mystery writer will recognize as a necessary periodic recap--he’s recalling what he’s learned thus far, so the reader will be reminded as well:
So what do we have, then? We have a man who, at work, appears to be basically disaffected, quiet, head down, registering no reaction to the coming calamity except for that one shocking outburst on Halloween. Then it turns out that he’s squirreled away a massive and comprehensive trove of information on the asteroid, that he’s privately obsessed with what he’s shrugging off in public.

And now it seems that, at least according to his brother-in-law, outside the office he was not only affected but overwhelmed; distraught. The kind of man who would, after all, be inclined to take his own life.

Oh Peter, I think. What is your story, friend?
The page is also representative, I’m noticing right now, in that it features my hero’s propensity for having a private inward conversation with the victim. Throughout the book, Detective Palace is extremely (some say pathologically) focused. Despite the asteroid, despite the chaos around him, all he can think about is finding the killer.
Learn more about the book and author at the official Ben H. Winters website.

My Book, The Movie: The Last Policeman.

--Marshal Zeringue