Countdown City

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The second entry in Ben H. Winters' "Last Policeman" trilogy. It's kind of a downer, as described below. As the in previous entry, it's set mostly in Concord NH, with some side trips to Durham NH and Kittery, ME. More about that too. Unfortunately, the scenario in the previous book hasn't gone away either. There's an asteroid headed for Earth in a few weeks, and civilization (even in New Hampshire) is quickly falling apart. And a lot of people have acquired, or reacquired, a nasty tobacco habit.

And the hero, Henry Palace, isn't even a cop anymore. He's marking time, waiting for the apocalypse, when his old babysitter Martha implores him to look into the disappearance of her husband Brett. This seems hopeless; a lot of husbands have taken off for parts unknown, and Henry has lost his detecting resources.

But Henry's a pretty good detective after all, and following Brett's trail leads him on a tour of societal collapse, which is pretty interesting. Surprisingly, many folks have not decided to lay in a lot of cheap red wine and lurid fiction, and just wait for The End. That would be me.

Specifically, Henry's quest brings him to the University Near Here, which has (amusingly, to my eyes) been taken over by a bunch of (I think) anarcho-syndicalists. There's a certain grim humor here: they are relentlessly communal, following the "will of the people". Problem being that it's a long drawn-out process to determine exactly what that will is, and it involves a lot of people shouting "point of order!"

But what I really want to mention is Winters' literary license with UNH geography. It's pretty twisted: he namedrops some buildings that exist (Thompson Hall, Dimond Library, Woodside Apartments), but also throws in a bunch that don't (e.g., "Kingfisher Hall"). And, in reality, walking from Thompson Hall to Dimond is maybe 20 yards; in the book it's a much longer hike.

Similar things happen when Henry goes to Kittery via Portsmouth. Basically right, but in a universe where "Memorial Bridge" spans "high over the harbor". Uh, no. It's the I-95 bridge that goes high. Memorial Bridge is low (but it's a drawbridge to allow the occasional boat traffic).

Quibbles aside, it's pretty clear that this book is pretty much a set-up for the last entry in the series. Which I've already bought.