The Last Policeman by Ben Winters


Winters, B. H. (2012). The Last Policeman: A Novel. Quirk Books.

Plot Summary:  In 2011, astronomers locate an asteroid that they believe will come very close to Earth.  Soon after, they predict that there is a 5% chance that it will actually collide with our planet.  The revelation causes mass panic as the world comes to terms with this potentially cataclysmic event. As the asteroid’s path becomes clearer, astronomers are forced to acknowledge that the asteroid is indeed on course to collide with Earth – there is no room for doubt. 

Detective Hank Palace is intent on maintaining some kind of order in his hometown of Concord, New Hampshire.  When he’s called on to contend with yet another suicide (fairly common with the coming asteroid), something seems off about the scene.  Palace decides to investigate the death, believing he is dealing with a homicide.  While the world is falling apart around him, Detective Hank Palace is determined to serve justice until the bitter end.

Critical Evaluation:  While this book wasn’t released as a young adult book, teen readers will identify with the themes that Winters plays with in The Last Policeman.   Teens looking for a fast-paced detective novel will not be disappointed.  This book is made up of all of the elements of a great detective novel – a compelling crime, mysterious characters and a detective worth rooting for.  Young adults who enjoy asking bigger questions of the novels they read will likewise be pleased with this novel.  What is the point of fighting crime when the world is likely to end in six months?  What is the point of solving a mystery when humans are facing mass extinction?  Teens can take this conversation further and ask what the point is of doing anything when we will all eventually die.  Heady stuff, indeed, but it makes for a fascinating conversation about human nature.  When it is discovered that the asteroid will hit the Philippines and that Concord, New Hampshire might be spared the worst of the catastrophe, the people of Detective Palace’s city begin to act in a more predictable manner.  The sub-plot involving governmental conspiracies and espionage will delight in Winters’ clever story and skillful plot twists.

Reader’s Annotation:  Detective Hank Palace knows just as well as everyone else that the asteroid due to hit Earth might cause mass extinction, but that’s not going to stop him from finding the bad guys and serving justice.

Author Information:   “Ben H. Winters is the author of seven novels, including most recently Countdown City (Quirk), an NPR Best Book of 2013 and the winner of the Philip K. Dick Award.  Ben has also written extensively for the theater, and was a 2009-2010 Fellow of the Dramatists Guild.  Ben grew up in suburban Maryland, went to college at Washington University in St. Louis, and has subsequently lived in six different cities—seven if you count Brooklyn twice for two different times. Presently he lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, with his wife Diana, a law professor, and their three children.”

ABOUT | Ben H. Winters. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Genre: Speculative/Science fiction

Curriculum Ties: Speculative fiction/Detective story

Booktalk Ideas: End of the world!, Alternate detective stories

Reading Level/Interest Level: Crossover/Grades 9 and up

Challenge Issues and Plans:  This book contains violence and topics of murder and suicide.

If this book was challenged:

  1. I would ensure that I am familiar with the material, including any part that might cause concern to parents/patrons.
  2. I would actively listen to the concerns of the parent/patron in an effort to fully understand their point of view. I would ask clarifying questions and avoid any judgmental language.
  3. I would offer my reasons for including the material in a non-confrontational but matter-of-fact manner.
  4. I would offer a list of reviews and awards that informed my decision to add the material to the collection.
  5. I would draw the parent/patron’s attention to ALA’s Library Bill of Right.
  6. I would have handy for perusal my library’s collection policy.
  7. If the parent/patron wished to continue with the challenge, I would offer an official challenge form that would be submitted to the library’s (or school’s) board of directors.

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