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Literature / The Last Policeman

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The Last Policeman is a mystery/soft Science Fiction trilogy written by Ben H. Winters. Due to its concept, the trilogy is unlikely to expand.

In an alternate 2011, a new asteroid has been discovered, named 2011GV1 or "Maia". Unfortunately, it is headed straight towards us, and its impact is expected to be comparable to the global catastrophe that wiped out the dinosaurs. In essence, The End of the World as We Know It has arrived. In the midst of this is Concord, New Hampshire Police Detective, Henry Palace, known to friends as Hank or sometimes Hen. Palace is a recent promotion from uniformed service and takes his job very seriously. With humanity's time on the planet reduced to a few remaining months, he has his work cut out for him convincing anyone that his cases matter.


In 2012's The Last Policeman the first novel of the trilogy, a body is found hanged in a Concord fast food restaurant. The initial assumption is that the victim was a suicide, but that explanation doesn't sit right with Palace.

In 2013's Countdown City, Palace has been downsized from the police force, along with the rest of the detectives. Nonetheless, he takes a case for Martha Cavatone, a former babysitter who helped raise him and his sister Nico, agreeing to help find Martha's husband Brett.

In 2014's World of Trouble, Palace is living in Massachusetts, in a house with other retired police from Concord. He leaves for Ohio to find his sister, and in the last days before impact makes other horrifying discoveries.


Tropes introduced in The Last Policeman:

  • Alternate History: Based on the calendar format used it very clearly takes place in an alternate 2011-2012.
  • Anyone Can Die: Each book sees major characters die, often violently. Given the setting, "Every Will Die," might be more accurate.
  • Apocalypse How: A big focus of the trilogy is how the knowledge of the coming apocalypse affects society before Maia actually hits. A Class 3b is on the way, but the world is already at a Class 1 by the start of the first book as people deal with their despair. It reaches a Class 2 by the end of Countdown City.This is especially evident in the third book.
  • Bald Women: Naomi Eddes, a witness that Palace has a fling with, has started shaving her head so as not to waste time on hair maintenance in the final months.
  • Colony Drop: The Apocalypse How of this particular Armageddon.
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  • Driven to Suicide: Detective Andreas
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: Fighting past official indifference and doubt that there's a case here, Palace both proves the apparent suicide was a murder and catches the culprit. He and the rest of the detectives are immediately let go when the Justice Department takes over the Concord PD.
  • Just Before the End: A few months left in this book. Naturally, the time frame shrinks in the two sequels.
  • Made of Iron: Henry receives significant injuries in each book, but they never seem to slow him down. He starts each book fully healed from the previous one. Countdown City is especially guilty of this; Alice Fenton strongly implies that Hank will lose function in his right arm as a result of the hospital's lack of resources. The injury isn't even mentioned in World of Trouble.
  • Myth Arc: The group of conspirators Nico and her husband belong to are subplots in the first two books before becoming the main focus of World of Trouble.
  • Never Suicide: Henry's instinct about the case.
  • Next Sunday A.D.: You don't have even the slight technological advances associated with 20 Minutes into the Future. If anything there's the opposite. This is especially the case the further on in the series.
  • Off the Wagon: Peter Zell, the victim, got into drugs for a while, and this caused recovering heroin addict Naomi Eddes to relapse as well.
  • Police Procedural: In a mid-sized city at the end of the world.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Henry is very different from his younger sister Nico. She's always been headstrong and a rebel, and she refuses to accept that there's no chance to save the world. Henry's main form of rebellion is to continue to do his job when his colleagues and higher-ups don't think he should bother, and he's mostly resigned to the end.
  • Suicide by Cop: J. T. Toussaint, a local handyman with drug ties, attacks Henry with a knife, getting shot to death by the other cops as a result.

Tropes introduced in Countdown City:

  • The Cavalry: Henry is bleeding out from a gunshot wound, far from civilization and with no hope of rescue. Until Nico and company show up with a goddamn helicopter. This avoids being a Deus ex Machina because the fact that her group of co-conspirators has access to one becomes a plot point for this book and the next.
  • Foreshadowing: McGully warns Culverson and Palace that they should get out of Concord now before the water runs out.
  • From Bad to Worse: In the first book, things like internet access and cell service are unreliable. They are completely dead by the start of Countdown City, with electric power gone as well. The novel's climax takes place during riots over the water going out as well.
  • How About a Smile?: Nico's friend Jordan helps Henry a few times and always makes a big deal about how Henry never thanks him. Their last interaction in the book he actually does get a sincere "thank you".
  • Mistaken for Cheating: One of the reasons Brett took off was because it looked like Martha had started up with one of her exes. This is a ruse by their coworker Jeremy, who wants Martha for himself. He even wrote a fake note to make it look like she was cheating on Brett
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Jeremy shoots Brett dead to make sure he won't return to Martha.
  • Retail Riot: Happens on a grand scale when the water is shut off. Also happens on the Fourth of July
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Henry's house, and most of Concord is burned down during a citywide riot after the water goes out.

Tropes introduced in World of Trouble:

  • After the End: Maia hasn't hit yet, but by the start of the book the social institutions that were faltering at the opening of the trilogy have mostly collapsed. Many places have burnt to the ground in the meantime. The end result is a world that is practically unrecognizable when compared to the year before.
  • Apocalypse Cult: The conspiracy Nico was working with turns out to be this.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Palace finds one early in the book, written by Rotary, Ohio's only detective. It stretches from roughly the time of the first book (when electronic record keeping became unreliable) until 16 weeks previous. It details the collapse of the town police department and ultimately the town itself. The place is a ghost town by the time Palace arrives.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Palace finds out who killed his sister and makes peace with them, but him along with most of humanity, will die when Maia strikes the Earth the next day
  • Cult Colony: A small one located in the basement of a small Ohio town's police department.
  • Doomed Hometown: After most of Concord burned down during the events of Countdown City, the final book takes place mostly in Rotary, Ohio, with Henry looking for Nico.
  • Hidden Elf Village: Henry chances onto a secluded Amish farm still functioning normally in the last week before Maya hits. Their patriarch has kept Maya's existence a secret from them, under a cover that the outside world is grappling with a plague.
  • Ruins of the Modern Age: Already beginning to show up just nine months after the confirmation that Maia would strike the Earth.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: In both a micro and macro sense.
    • In the trilogy as a whole, the theme of pointlessness keeps cropping up. If everyone is going to be dead by the end of October, what does it matter what people do before then?
    • In World of Trouble specifically, Henry spends two days searching for a sledgehammer, fractures several ribs, and nearly burns to death, just so he can access the basement he's certain Nico is hiding in. It turns out that she's been dead the whole time, and if he had just waited for Jeanne to wake up, she would have shown him so.
  • The Sociopath: Astronaut, the cult leader.
  • Suicide Pact: Subverted. While it initially looks like Nico's friends have committed mass suicide, it's revealed that they were tricked into drinking poison by Astronaut so he could help himself to their supplies.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: Jordan turns out to be with the FBI.