Countdown City by Ben H. Winters (Quirk Books, July 16th, 2013)-It’s 77 days until the asteroid Maia is due to hit Earth, taking humanity with it, and former cop Hank Palace is still doing what he does best: solving cases. Well, at least he’s trying to, but investigating anything in this environment is proving to be near impossible. However, an old friend, Martha Milano, has begged Hank to find her husband, Brett, who’s gone missing. Hank knows finding Brett is a longshot, but he can’t say no. Soon, Hank finds out that Brett is an ex-cop who abruptly quit his job to work for his father in law’s pizza joint. This doesn’t seem quite right to Hank, and as he digs deeper, he realizes there may be more to Brett than just a man out to complete his bucket list before the asteroid hits.
I adored The Last Policeman, so was very much looking forward to Countdown City. True to form, it pits our rather stoic, dogged ex-policeman Hank Palace against an environment that’s rapidly falling apart. There used to at least be somewhat of a police presence in his neighborhood, but that’s no longer the case. People are looting and hoarding, and the violence is getting worse. Hank’s way of coping with the planet’s impending demise is with his methodical pursuit of the truth, even if it will eventually prove to be utterly meaningless. Soon, he must enlist the help of his free-spirited sister Nico, who has joined up with a group that is convinced that the disaster can be avoided. Hank is most definitely out of his comfort zone with these folks, and it offers a somewhat charming contrast to his ever-put-together and mannered personality.
Somehow, even as the world as a whole falls apart and even Hank’s fairly orderly world begins to crumble, the author manages not to turn the narrative into one long, melancholy slide. In my opinion, this is entirely because of Hank. His decency and determination in the face of tragedy makes him shine, and as a result, I’ll follow him anywhere. Hank and his bichon frise, Houdini, are two of the most wonderful creations in mystery today, and while the author certainly throws some pretty hefty curveballs at his hero this time around, I have no doubt that my favorite detective will be back soon in fine form. This is a superb series and it’s a must for mystery fans and for fans of excellent fiction, period.