Book Review : Countdown City by Ben H Winters

No longer a detective, Henry Palace finds himself confronting a missing persons case with dangerous implications far deeper than he realizes. Countdown City (The Last Policeman #2) by Ben H Winters is the second in a trilogy of books following Detective Henry(Hank) Palace and while the first book left me feeling a bit unsatisfied, will the second change my mind?

Let’s find out! But first…

The Details

Countdown City (The Last Policeman #2) is written by author Ben H Winters and was originally published on July 13th, 2013 by Quirk Books.

This is book two in a trilogy and if you haven’t yet, you can check out my review here of book one – Book Review : The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters or our Story Club discussion/episode with members of the AIC Stories Discord right here: Story Club 003 – The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters.

So… let’s get to it.

Summary

Photo Courtesy of Goodreads

FROM GOODREADS:

“There are just 77 days to go before a deadly asteroid collides with Earth, and Detective Hank Palace is out of a job. With the Concord police force operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, Hank’s days of solving crimes are over…until a woman from his past begs for help finding her missing husband.

Brett Cavatone disappeared without a trace – an easy feat in a world with no phones, no cars, and no way to tell whether someone’s gone “bucket list” or just gone. With society falling to shambles, Hank pieces together what few clues he can, on a search that leads him from a college-campus-turned-anarchist-encampment to a crumbling coastal landscape where anti-immigrant militia fend off “impact zone” refugees.

The second novel in the critically acclaimed Last Policeman trilogy, Countdown City presents a fascinating mystery set on brink of an apocalypse – and once again, Hank Palace confronts questions way beyond “whodunit.” What do we as human beings owe to one another? And what does it mean to be civilized when civilization is collapsing all around you?

The Good

While the first book in this series focuses heavily on a ton of clues and detective procedural style writing, this second book leans more into the mystery/thriller aspects. Frankly the story is, by and large, better for it.

Naturally, Henry finds himself once again trying to solve a case. Only now he doesn’t have any official detective resources or authority. He’s doing it because… well… he has to.

Maybe it was only my perception, maybe it was fact, but Winters seems to have picked up the pace of the story in this one, ALMOST putting himself into “page-turner” category. Sure, Henry is STILL trying to solve this missing persons case. Of course the storyline with his sister Nico is getting bigger and stranger. But through it all, we are once again journeying through the elements of human emotion and reactions when faced with a catastrophic event.

Winters, through Henry’s eyes as he seeks to solve his mystery, shows us just how differently humanity is reacting. Where some seek to find what little joy they can until the end, others find their vile tendencies overtaking their sense of right and wrong.

Countdown City was a wildcard for me. After the events of The Last Policeman I was unsure just what direction things would take, especially now that Henry is no longer a detective. Seeing it veer more towards the personal relationships, conspiracy theories, and humanity crumbling as the asteroid nears made this book much more enjoyable than the first.

We see more of Henry’s development as a character(as well as his sister and the other detectives from the first book) and begin to finally crack through his WHY. The first book asks, “With the Earth being destroyed in 6 months, why bother trying to solve a murder?”. Here we see a little more behind what drives Henry, while new curveballs get thrown at him making him question things more than ever before.

The Not So Good

All in all this was a super fast and enjoyable read, so I don’t have TOO much to say here. Much like the first book, I think it still struggles a bit with the identity crisis. At times it feels like it can’t tell if it wants to be a dystopian future/sci-fi, a missing person detective thriller, or an action/adventure story.

Though it feels like, especially by the end of it, that it’s FINALLY starting to find the identity it’s searching for. Hopefully book three will gel nicely and end on a high note.

Let’s see… what else?

Oh, let’s talk about “leaps of faith” and that ending. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything for you.

Much like the first book, there are a LOT of moments where we are led down a path by Winters, only to be asked to “just go with it” even though it’s hard to understand or see how we got from point A to point B. While they don’t KILL the story, they do pop up and your reaction may or may not knock you out of the flow of what’s happening.

The biggest let down of Countdown City is the ending. We have a great last half of the book, things really ramp up and get dark and twisty and the stakes are only getting higher for Henry. He’s racing to solve this mystery, racing to stay alive and keep those around him alive, and the ending of the book proper(pre-Epilogue) arrives and instead of going out with a BANG…

…it just fizzles and ends.

And while the Epilogue fills in some gaps and nudges us gently towards the final book, even that feels very low key, yet not “happy-ending” enough to really satisfy.

The Bottom Line

While I enjoyed Countdown City more than The Last Policeman, it didn’t leave me NEEDING to see how this trilogy would end.

I’ll be finishing it for sure and the second book absolutely left me feeling a little more curious than the first did, in terms of what comes next, but it still hasn’t completely HOOKED me, if that makes sense.

I really do enjoy the direction this book headed as it began to step away from a strict “detective/police procedural” feel and leaned more into the pre-apocalypse. There was still the detective work, but it’s unofficial and thus not mired in minutiae.

I really enjoyed the ending setting, with the city turning into a real “Devils Night” vibe like we saw in The Crow film from the late 90’s. It makes me a little more interested to see just how chaotic things are going to get when the events of World of Trouble (The Last Policeman #3) unfold.

The slow revealing of Henry’s inner struggles as he comes to grip with the situation, coupled with his emotional response to both Naomi and Officer McConnell, even with his sister Nico, was a welcomed direction shift in this book as well. It made me a bit more invested in Henry as a character and in the story as a whole, even if only a LITTLE more.

On the whole, I enjoyed this second book more than the first.

As such, I gave Countdown City (The Last Policeman #2) by Ben H Winters a 3 out of 5 stars.

Enjoyable, faster paced with a more interesting story that is still suffering from an identity crisis as the missing persons half of the story still butts heads with the impending doomsday from the asteroid half of the story.

Sadly, the ending fizzled a bit for me and left me feeling like it stumbled right at the finish line. That being said, it’s still in the “recommend checking it out” category. Especially if you’ve read the first book in the series.

As always, your mileage may vary.

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