Book Review: Countdown City (The Last Policeman Book II) by Ben H. Winters

wpid-countdown_final_72_0.jpgBen H. Winters’ Edgar Award-winning The Last Policeman was one of the standout SF surprises of last year. A clever, witty, intelligent pre-apocalyptic mystery with a lot of heart and a fine hero in it’s eminently likeable protagonist, Henry Palace.

But there is still a story to be told. While Henry had solved his former case, he now faces forced retirement from the Concord Police Department due to the ever-worsening breakdown in society as asteroid Maia hurtles ever closer to Earth and the need for crime solving has been replaced with the need for maintaining even the most basic order.

However Henry’s a detective. That’s what he does, and continues to do. A request from his former babysitter Martha to find her missing husband Brett Cavatone sends him off on another adventure, this time on two wheels (his police-issue vehicle has been replaced with a bicycle, along with a trailer to carry Houdini, his newfound Bichon Frise from book one.)

Not unlike Henry’s former case, a disappearance of this type is not uncommon these days, with those not opting for suicide going “bucket list” or finding themselves with various religions. Nevertheless, he is convinced that something is amiss as Martha claims his disappearance is totally uncharacteristic and he has disappeared while on an errand for her father, one of the few restaurant owners left in Concord. As the investigation progresses we see Hank come in contact again with his rebellious sister Nico, who’s association with a mysterious group may be linked to Brett’s disappearance.

We also see the return of some characters from The Last Policeman as Henry tries to maintain his tenuous relationship with his former colleagues in the C.P.D., they themselves pushed to breaking point as Concord and the world at large deteriorates around them. Things are changing fast and Concord has become a much darker and dangerous place than we remember in The Last Policeman. Fear and paranoia are growing at an exponential rate. Food and water is becoming scarce, orphaned children are roaming the streets. Refugees from Asia (the projected point of Maia’s impact) are attempting to enter by sea, now policed by armed militia attempting to keep the borders closed.

What’s a little unsettling is how the tone of Henry’s matter-of-fact narrative remains the same regardless of what’s happening around him, all the while carefully negotiating his rapidly crumbling surroundings and engaging only those he needs to. You do get the distinct impression that he is trying his best not to let what’s happening change him, but as the story progresses chinks in his armour do start to show. It’s not necessarily a weaker Hank Palace in this book, but he does have to work a lot harder to keep it together. His resources are extremely limited now and he does all he can to hold on to some semblance of his former life, even down to still wearing his suit.

We also get a little more insight to his relationship with his sister Nico. Hank puts aside his disappointment at her past behaviour to ask her help in finding Brett but he loves her and feels the need to protect her regardless of what she’s done although at times in this book it’s Hank that needs protecting more than Nico as she’s a lot tougher and resourceful than her brother gives her credit for.

Although the tone of Countdown City is much darker, Winters paints a picture of a society where even under the most impossible of circumstances a glimmer of hope can still exist among the despair and violence. It’s an astute observation of how quickly such a decline can happen and the lengths people will go to to survive, if only for a short time and it raises many philosophical questions but never preaches. It’s a fine companion to The Last Policeman and just as enjoyable and though we may know the ultimate conclusion of this story, what happens in the meantime is well worth the investment.

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WIN! Rare First Edition Copy of Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

It’s competition time!

I’ve got a rare hardback first edition/first printing copy of Ransom Riggs’ New York Times bestseller Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children from Quirk Books to give away to one lucky reader. See my review here

This book is set to skyrocket in popularity with the upcoming movie now in production being directed by none other than Tim Burton and penned by Kick Ass and X-Men First Class screenwriter Jane Goldman and the second book in the series “Hollow City” set for release January 2013 so this first edition is a must-have for collectors and fans alike.

The book is now available on paperback also.

There are several ways you can enter – just click the Rafflecopter link below:

Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Please have a read through some of my other reviews and share this post as much as you can.

Many thanks to the authors and publishers who have been so helpful to me up to now!

Eamon

UPDATE: The winner was @PipersBookNook (Adriana C.)- congratulations and your book will be winging it’s way to New York very soon!

Book Review: The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

ImagePossibly one of the books recommended to me most so far this year was Arthur C. Clarke Award winner Lauren Beukes’ third novel The Shining Girls.

The story follows Harper Curtis, a heinous murderer on the run in Great Depression-era Chicago who stumbles on a strange house which he discovers allows him to move through time. He also discovers within the house a constellation-like map of girls names with everyday artifacts attached to them. What’s even more puzzling is that the names are written with his hand. He proceeds to track the girls through time, taunting and teasing them, appearing and reappearing at different points in their lives until he eventually murders them.

However things start to unravel for Harper when one of the girls, Kirby Mazrachi survives his brutal attack. Determined to find her attacker, Kirby takes an internship at a local newspaper to get close to former crime-turned-sports reporter Dan Velasquez and persuades him to help with her search.

As far as serial killers go, Harper Curtis is probably one of the deadliest we’ve seen in many years and also one of the more interesting ones. There’s no Lecter charm, no Dexter likeability factor. He is a one man juggernaut with dogged purpose and no-one will stand in his way. Besides his intended victims he has no problems despatching anyone else who causes even a slight hiccup in his plans. His methods are evil, brutal and made all the more powerful by his newfound ability which serves to amplify his desires exponentially. What I like about Lauren Beukes’ portrayal of Harper is that she doesn’t like him. She gleefully inflicts pain on him at every given opportunity and while initially slowing him down slightly, as he progresses this tends to make him even stronger.

Kirby’s character has survived a horrific attack but hasn’t dealt with it very well up to this point until she realises Harper is killing again and that she’s now in real danger and this makes her one of the strongest female characters on the block right now, right up there with Wool’s Juilette Nichols. She may be played as the Punky Youth Rebel but she’s much more than that. She’s a witty, resilient lead and (not unlike Harper) there is no stopping her once her mind is made up. Her stubbornness can get her in to trouble though and she does display some childish insensitivity towards others, particularly the families of victims she interviews.

The dynamic of her relationship with Dan is interesting. While initially refusing an intern her sassy character grows on him quite quickly. The dialogue between them both is snappy and funny and it’s clear they have very similar humour despite the obvious age gap. As the story progresses he is torn between common sense and Kirby’s seemingly impossible theories on her attacker’s movements as well as his own growing feelings for her.

The pace is relentless throughout aided of course by Harper’s abilities. Some of the criticism I’ve seen of this book is that the pace is too fast but given the power now bestowed on Harper it simply has to be. His character could not react in any other way than to jump on this murderous rollercoaster with furious intent. Be warned though, that Harper’s methods are not for the squeamish. Even the most seasoned crime reader will find this a very graphic and brutal tale with little sympathy for it’s victims.

The story flits effortlessly between time changes and from victim to victim and at no point is the reader confused which is no mean feat considering the time changes involved. Beukes has a good feel for Chicago (despite being from South Africa) and has clearly done some sterling research on the important eras involved in the plot.  My only criticism is that because of the breakneck pace of every chapter, the ending seemed ever-so-slightly premature. However the superbly structured plot will have you eagerly turning pages or prodding your eReader’s screen until all hours in what is one of the most thrilling stories you are likely to read this year.

Eamon Ambrose