The Short Version: The end of the world is, quite literally, nigh – but Hank Palace has one case left to close. As he tries to run down his sister (who thinks she’s going to save the world), the clock is dwindling and loose ends are everywhere. But the last policeman can’t let the world end just yet.
The Review: Man.
Give me a minute.
For one thing, I’d recommend reading this trilogy as back-to-back as you can. There is something to be said for binge-reading this kind of apocalypse – in fact, I think it might be preferable. Over the course of all three books, the question looms: what is going to happen at the end? And I think it’s better to try and address that question all at once instead of dragging it out.
And I don’t mean “what’s going to happen” in terms of the destruction and mayhem that will inevitably ensue upon impact – but rather what’s going to happen to us? How will we be at the end of all things? In The Last Policeman, we saw society going on pretty much as usual – the edges only just starting to fray. Countdown City saw the tipping point, the moment when it seemed like everyone woke up and realized that this was not a test but rather the real deal. And now, in World of Trouble, we face the last week before impact and you cannot escape this book without looking deep inside and asking yourself what you would do. Would you be like Hank? Would you be like the trucker couple he meets? Would you be like the kindly, if slightly deranged, Amish gentleman? Or would you have checked out a long time ago, cashing in while you still had a choice?
It’s a deeply personal thing for a book to ask of a reader, especially a book that comes wrapped in an ostensibly genre package. After all, isn’t this a trilogy of mysteries? But these stories were never about the crimes that Hank was trying to solve; they were about something more fundamental, something more elemental. They’re about the human reaction to adversity.
On the one hand, Hank’s decision to go after his sister rings deeply true with me. Faced with the end of the world, I would absolutely want to know that my sister was okay. And I would do a whole lot of things to make sure that she was okay. But then you have to ask yourself… what does okay mean, in those circumstances? Nico being alive and okay is important to Hank – but, honestly, for selfish reasons. He wants her to be alive and okay because he wants that. He needs it, in the waning days of humanity. In this, Hank is perhaps no better than any of the darker variations he comes across on his trek out to Ohio. Would it not have been kinder, in a way, to stay with the other cops in MA?
But it is the case that drives him, of course – and the possibility, however faint, that his crazy sister just might be right. Hank Palace would’ve, in another universe, made a pretty great policeman.
As the book dwindles to a close, I don’t think it spoils anything to say that we come right up to Impact Day. October 3rd. A Wednesday. And that’s where Winters’ talent as a writer really shines: he makes the last chapters so authentic and real and horrible and beautiful that, again, you’re forced to wonder what you’d do. Where you would be. As I fought back a tear or two on the train (the idea of such well realized destruction frightens me as it might a small child), I pondered this – and I don’t know what I would do. I really don’t. Would I stick it out – hope to ride out the ensuing global cataclysm as best I could, fight on to what would inevitably be a nasty and brutish end, regardless of whether I survived the immediate devastation? Or would I have checked out early? I don’t believe it’s cowardice to take the latter option, reader – and I think, between the lines, you see Hank considering this throughout the entire second half of the novel. But, then, what are we (humanity, that is) better at than hoping? Striving? Staying alive?
Rating: 4.5 out of 5. The “case”, as it were, means even less here – although, somewhat paradoxically, it also matters more. At this point, though, we readers are simply on board the train to the end. Because, let’s face it: everybody wants to know what’s going to happen. How it will happen. And lunchtime on Wednesday, October 3, comes way sooner than we want it to – but that’s the trick of inexorability. The triumph of this trilogy is not so much in the individual crime stories but rather in the profound examination (both by the author, in his characters, and by the author’s material, in the reader’s mind) of humanity in the face of inescapable doom. What makes us human, what it means to survive and have a purpose – and how to cope, when the end does come. A stunning achievement.
(This review – and reviews of the whole trilogy – originally ran at TNBBC. Check ’em out over there: http://thenextbestbookblog.blogspot.com/2014/06/drew-reviews-world-of-trouble.html)