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Authors: Ben H. Winters

World of Trouble

BOOK: World of Trouble
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The Last Policeman
Winner of the Edgar Award

“[The] plotting is sure-footed and surprising.… Ben H. Winters reveals himself as a novelist with an eye for the well-drawn detail.”


“Ben H. Winters makes noir mystery even darker:
The Last Policeman
sets a despondent detective on a suspicious suicide case—while an asteroid hurtles toward earth.”


“I love this book. I stayed up until seven in the morning reading because I could not stop. Full of compelling twists, likable characters, and a sad beauty,
The Last Policeman
is a gem. It’s the first in a trilogy, and I am already excited for book two.”

—Audrey Curtis,
San Francisco Book Review

“I’m eager to read the other books, and expect that they’ll keep me as enthralled as the first one did.”

—Mark Frauenfelder,
Boing Boing

“I haven’t had to defend my love for science fiction in quite a while, but when I do, I point to books like
The Last Policeman
. [It] explores human emotions and relationships through situations that would be impossible (or worse yet, metaphorical) in literary fiction. This is a book that asks big questions about civilization, community, desperation and hope. But it doesn’t provide big, pat answers.”

—Michael Ann Dobbs,

“I’ve rarely been more surprised by a mystery novel than I was by this one—it’s an unlikely cross-genre mashup that coheres for two reasons: the glum, relentless, and implausibly charming detective Hank Palace; and, most importantly, Ben H. Winters’s clean, clever, thoughtful, and gently comic prose.”

—J. Robert Lennon

“A solidly plotted whodunit with strong characters and excellent dialogue … the impending apocalypse isn’t merely window dressing, either: it’s a key piece of the puzzle Hank is trying to solve.”


“This thought-provoking mystery should appeal to crime fiction aficionados who like an unusual setting and readers looking for a fresh take on apocalypse stories.”

Library Journal

“A promising kickoff to a planned trilogy. For Winters, the beauty is in the details rather than the plot’s grim main thrust.”

Kirkus Reviews
(starred review)

“Ben H. Winters spins a wonderful tale while creating unique characters that fit in perfectly with the ever-changing societal pressures.… [This] well-written mystery will have readers eagerly awaiting the second installment.”

The New York Journal of Books

“Extraordinary—as well as brilliant, surprising, and, considering the circumstances, oddly uplifting.”

Mystery Scene Magazine

“Exhilarating.… Do not wait for the movie!”

E! Online

Countdown City:
The Last Policeman Book II
Winner of the Philip K. Dick Award

“Winters is a deft storyteller who moves his novel effortlessly from its intriguing setup to a thrilling, shattering conclusion.”

Los Angeles Review of Books

“As with the first Hank Palace novel (this is volume 2 of a trilogy), the mystery element is strong, and the strange, pre-apocalyptic world is highly imaginative and also very plausible—it’s easy to think that the impending end of the world might feel very much like this. Genre mash-up master Winters is at it again.”


“I always appreciate novels that have new and interesting approaches to traditional genres, and Ben H. Winters’ two novels featuring Hank Palace fill the bill.”

—Nancy Pearl, “NPR’s Guide to 2013’s Best Reads”

“Through it all Palace remains a likeable hero for end times, and … readers are left to wonder how he’ll survive to tell his final tale.”

Publishers Weekly

Copyright © 2014 by Ben H. Winters

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form without written permission from the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Number: 2014903377

eISBN: 978-1-59474-686-4

Designed by Gregg Kulick based on a design by Doogie Horner
Cover photographs: (man) © Ibai Acevedo/Moment Select/Getty Images; (meteor) © Ian McKinnell/Photographer’s Choice/Getty Images; (building) © Hillary Fox/E+/Getty Images; (dog) © ideeone/E+/Getty Images

Production management by John J. McGurk

Quirk Books
215 Church Street
Philadelphia, PA 19106


For Diana
“… I’m gonna love you
till the wheels come off
oh, oh yeah …”

“And I won’t let go and I can’t let go
I won’t let go and I can’t let go
I won’t let go and I can’t let go no more”
—Bob Dylan, “Solid Rock”

“Are you here about the dust? Please tell me you’re here to do something about the dust.”

I don’t answer. I don’t know what to say.

The girl’s voice is throaty and ill, her eyes looking out over a nose-and-mouth mask, staring hopeful and crazed at me as I stand baffled on her doorstep. Beautiful blonde, hair swept back out of her face, dirty and exhausted like everybody, panicked like everybody. But there’s something else going on here, something not healthy. Something biochemical in her eyes.

“Well, come in,” she says through her allergy mask. “Come on, come in, close the door, the door.”

I step inside and she kicks the door shut and whirls around to face me. Yellow sundress, faded and tattered at the hem. Starved-looking, sallow, pale. Wearing not just the allergy mask but thick yellow latex gloves. And she’s armed to the teeth is the other thing,
she’s holding two semiautomatics and has a smaller gun tucked in her boot, plus some kind of heavy-duty hunting knife in a calf sheath at the hem of the sundress. And I can’t tell if it’s live or not, but there is unquestionably a grenade dangling from a braided belt at her waist.

“Do you see the
?” she says, gesturing with the guns, pointing into the corners. “You see how we’ve got a serious problem with the dust?”

It’s true that there are motes hovering in the sunbeams, along with the garbage scattered on the floor, heaps of dirty clothing and open trunks spilling over with all manner of useless things, magazines and electrical cords and wadded-up dollar bills. But she’s seeing more than what’s here, I can tell, she’s in the outer reaches, she’s blinking furiously, coughing behind her mask.

I wish I could recall this girl’s name. That would help a lot, if I could just remember her name.

“What do we do about this?” she says, rattling out words. “Do you just vacuum it, or—? Is that it—do you just suck it up and take it out of here? Does that work with cosmic dust?”

“Cosmic dust,” I say. “Huh. Well, you know, I’m not sure.”

This is my first trip to Concord, New Hampshire, since I fled a month ago, since my house burned down, along with much of the rest of the city. The chaos of those final frantic hours has died down to a grim and mournful silence. We’re a few blocks from downtown, in the abandoned husk of a store on Wilson Street, but there are no jostling anxious crowds outside, no frightened people rushing and pushing past each other in the streets. No klaxon howl of car alarms, no distant gunfire. The people are hidden now, those that remain,
hidden under blankets or in basements, encased in their dread.

And the girl, disintegrating, raving about imaginary dust from outer space. We’ve met once before, right here at this same small shop, which was once a used-clothing store called Next Time Around. She wasn’t like this then, hadn’t fallen prey to it. Other people are sick in the same way, of course, to varying degrees, different kinds of symptomatology; if the
were still being updated and applied, this new illness would be added in red. A debilitating obsession with the gigantic asteroid on a collision course with our fragile planet.
, perhaps.
Delusional interstellar psychosis

I feel like if I could only call her by her name, remind her that we have a relationship, that we’re both human beings, it would ease her unsettled mind and make me less of a threat. Then we could talk calmly.

“It’s toxic, you know,” she’s saying. “Really, really bad. The cosmic dust is real, real bad on your lungs. The photons burn your lungs.”

“Listen,” I say, and she makes a panicked gasp and rushes toward me, her assorted armaments jangling.

“Keep your
in your
,” she hisses. “Don’t

“Okay. I’ll try. I won’t.”

I keep my hands at my sides, where she can see them, keep my expression neutral, soft as cake. “I’m actually here for some information.”

“Information?” Her brows knit with confusion. She peers at me through clouds of invisible dust.

It’s not her I’m here to talk to, anyway; it’s her friend I need.
Boyfriend, maybe. Whatever he is. That’s the guy who knows where I need to go next. I hope he does, anyway. I’m counting on it.

“I need to speak to Jordan. Is Jordan here?”

Suddenly the girl finds focus, snaps to attention, and the pistols come up. “Did he—did he send you?”

“No.” I raise my hands. “No.”

“Oh my God, he sent you. Are you with him? Is he in space?” She’s shouting, advancing across the room, the barrels of the semiautomatics aimed at my face like twin black holes. “Is he doing this?”

BOOK: World of Trouble
11.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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