Sunday, August 18, 2013

Book Review: "Countdown City" by Ben H. Winters

An asteroid is supposed to collide with Earth in 77 days, resulting in mass casualties all over the world. Already many parts of the United States have lost electricity, food stores have closed and been replaced by black market and rummage sales, the water supply is running low, and people are barricaded in their homes with weapons at the ready, waiting for the inevitable violence that may come before the end of the world.

Hank Palace was a police detective in Concord, New Hampshire until his job was eliminated when the police department was subsumed by the U.S. Department of Justice. But although he is out of a job, he can't turn off his investigative thirst or his desire to help people, so when he is approached by Martha Milano Cavatone, his former babysitter, to find her missing husband, former police officer Brett, Hank eagerly agrees, despite the fact that millions of people are disappearing every day, leaving to pursue items on their "bucket lists" before the asteroid hits.

By all accounts, Brett Cavatone was an upstanding, religiously devout man with a strong sense of right and wrong. Hank cannot figure out where Brett might have gone or why he left. And everyone tells him he should just leave the case alone, especially since tracking down a missing person with no internet, no phone, no electricity is nearly impossible. But once a detective, always a detective, with or without a badge and a gun, and Hank doggedly pieces the clues together.

"There are a million things I might be doing other than putting in overtime to make right one Bucket List abandonment, to heal Martha Milano's broken heart. But this is what I do. It's what makes sense to me, what has long made sense. And surely some large proportion of the world's current danger and decline is not inevitable but rather the result of people scrambling fearfully away from the things that have long made sense."

Hank's investigation leads him to an anarchist colony located where the University of New Hampshire was, and then to a rocky beach where ships carrying "immigrants" from other portions of the world and the country are traveling, seeking relief from the chaos and shortages brought on by the impending doomsday. As he finds himself immersed in more danger and confusion than he anticipated, he is torn between doing what he believes is right and leaving Brett missing, instead preparing himself and his life for the world's end, which is moving ever closer.

What do we owe one another as humans? Is loyalty never-ending or does it have its limits, especially in times of crisis? Should you do everything you can to find someone who doesn't want to be found, or should you leave them to their own devices? Countdown City strives to answer those questions against the backdrop of growing panic and great unrest, and the world's inevitable destruction.

Countdown City is the second book in Ben H. Winters' terrific trilogy featuring Hank Palace. It began with the fantastic The Last Policeman, and Winters (and Hank) are again in fine form. I absolutely loved the first book in this series; I really enjoyed this book a great deal, but found some of the conspiracy theories and anarchist scenarios a little more confusing and complicated than I would have liked. But on the whole, I absolutely love Hank's character and some of the supporting characters, and am in awe of the incredibly creative and complex world that Winters has created.

You don't necessarily need to read The Last Policeman before Countdown City, but I'd recommend it, simply to get the full breadth of Ben H. Winters' talent. I can't wait for the third book in this trilogy, although I know that no matter what happens, I won't want to see the end of Hank Palace.

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