The Last Policeman–Ben H. Winters

policeman_winner-cover_Layout 1“I’m sorry, what did you say you were looking for?”

“I don’t know yet. An investigation’s proper course cannot be mapped in advance.  It follows each piece of information forward to the next one.”

“Oh yeah?”  When the young woman raises her eyebrows, it creates delicate furrows on her forehead.  “It sounds like you’re quoting from a textbook or something.”

Detective Henry Palace has a whole host of problems.  He’s got a moon bat sister whose equally ditzy husband is missing.  His fellow detectives no longer seem to be taking their jobs seriously.  He’s got a dead body hung in a McDonald’s washroom that everyone from the district attorney to the forensic examiner has determined is a suicide, his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.  He’s also going to be dead in six months.

When it was finally determined that a 6.5 kilometer asteroid known as 2011GV, a.k.a. “Maia” is definitely going to hit the earth within six months, society fell apart.  Many people quit their jobs to pursue their “bucket lists”; many others chose to end things on their own terms, with pills, a gun, or dangling at the end of a rope.  Still others continued on with their daily lives through force of habit, either pretending nothing was wrong or simply not knowing what else to do.  Henry Palace is one of the lucky ones, in that he’s right where he wants to be.  He’s dreamed of being a detective since childhood, and finally realized it in the months preceding the discovery of Maia.  End of the world or not, Palace is doing what he loves, so when Peter Zell, insurance salesman and purveyor of pretty much the least useful service you could think of in a pre-apocalyptic world, ends up hanging from a belt in a dirty washroom, it looks like an open and shut case of suicide.  At least it does to everyone but Palace.  Something’s just not right, something innocuous, but curious at the same time.  If you’re going to kill yourself—why buy a new belt?

Thus begins Ben H. Winter’s Edgar award-winning, The Last Policeman, a novel which explores what it means to solve crime in a world where it really doesn’t matter.

The Last Policeman is a police procedural in unusual times.  Henry Palace has to deal with both a dysfunctional society and the eroding infrastructure of a fictionalized Concord, New Hampshire which only gets worse as the end nears.  Basic modern technology such as the internet and cell phone service are spotty at best.  Simple forensics such as toxicology reports are hard to come by, and even fueling a departmental car is a daunting proposition.  A man who prefers a life of structure and reason, Palace is stubbornly rule bound and methodical, yet willing to bypass those investigative rules–if necessary–in his dogged pursuit of the truth.  He’s also got a well-honed sense of decency.  Where a meal costs tens of thousands of dollars due to the collapse of the banking system and the resulting hyper-inflation, he still tips well, even though he can’t really afford it.  When he discovers an unsavory aspect to the deceased Peter Zell’s past that might explain suicide as a likely scenario, he doesn’t just bow to popular opinion, and when his sister implores him to find her missing husband, family duty requires he follow-up.

The list of possible suspects is short, but the author provides us with enough theories that the reader isn’t aware of the culprit, or even if there is one, until late in the novel. Was it Zell’s boyhood friend with whom he had a falling out?  Could Zell’s suspiciously disinterested sister or her family have a role in his death?  As an insurance salesman unlikely to pay out policies in the face of the apocalypse, could it be a disgruntled customer?  And what is Zell’s connection with the charming Ms. Naomi Eddes, personal assistant to his boss and first noticed by Palace as she hurriedly walked away from the McDonald’s Zell’s body was found in?

When I started reading The Last Policeman, I expected a maudlin and depressing novel.  After all, he’s writing about the futility of doing your job when you know it’s most likely all going to end within a short period of time.  However, in Henry Palace we find a case study of a man who is, as I said earlier, right where he wants to be.  True, I’m sure he doesn’t want to be facing the apocalypse, but lacking an alternative, he’s making the best of a bad situation and relishes the thought of a mystery he can solve.  Palace obviously has a strong sense of duty, taking his job seriously while others simply go through the motions, but the reader gets the impression that his determination to prove this suicide is not suicide stems not just from duty, but also an unwillingness to accept what he feels in his gut is wrong, and maybe an attempt to resolve demons from his own past. Perhaps in the end, he feels he owes it to history to wrap up the details, and not allow Zell’s death to be misrepresented.

The Last Policeman is written from Palace’s point of view in a style that constantly demonstrates his methodical nature, both dealing with those around him and with his investigation.  It’s also a broader look into dealing with the unthinkable, whether people will rise to the occasion or sink into behavior that at any other time would be unconscionable.  Ben H. Winters deserves much kudos for a thoughtful and intelligent mystery that has garnered him an Edgar award for “Best Paperback Original” of 2013.  It’s also the first in a trilogy of his apocalyptic mysteries featuring Henry Palace.  Winters’ second novel, Countdown City, is out now.

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Quirk Books is looking for Bloggers!

Quirk Books wants You!

Quirk Books wants You!

Over the past few years, I’ve managed to enjoy and review several titles by Quirk Books.  From Night of the Living Trekkies (a delightfully morbid look at sci-fi conventions) to the adventures of Elizabeth Bennett in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Quirk Books has always had, well–I guess the right word would be, “quirky”, take on whatever genre they tackle.  I have yet to be disappointed by a Quirk title.

They also maintain a blog on their site, and a couple of weeks ago it came to my attention that they’re looking for a few good bloggers.

Now there are a few conditions.  You must:

* Be passionate about books.

* Have a decent presence on major social media networks. Twitter, Facebook, etc.

* Be willing to promote your posts on those networks.

Doesn’t sound like an onerous list of requirements.  And–it’s a paying gig!

So, if you’ve got similar tastes in reading and a desire to both write and be read, why not drop them an email (see the above link) and see if you’re a good fit?

The Meowmorphosis: Coming to a shelf near you.

 “Gregor’s future is a bit fuzzy.”

For those of you who’ve always been a little squeamish about bugs and therefore unable to appreciate Kafka’s  Metamorphosis, you’ve stumbled into a bit of luck.  Quirk Classics fully appreciates your fears and has endeavoured to do something about it.  They commissioned Cook Coleridge  to add a bit of fluff (of the furball variety) to Kafka’s tail…er, tale?

The Meowmorphosis, on shelves May 10, 2011.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls-Steve Hockensmith

“Wishful thinking is a sin all England stands guilty of today, your fool of a father included.  We told ourselves our long nightmare was over, that a new day had dawned.  Alas, that was the real dream.”  ~Mr. Bennett.

And thus begins, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls (Steve Hockensmith: copyright © 2010 Quirk Books), a story of Regency England facing  a threat it had thought long since past.  In polite society, one does not talk of the scourge, and if necessary, refers to them as “the Unmentionables“.  Less polite society calls them “the Dreadfuls” and if one loses one’s propriety altogether, “Zombies!”

And propriety is under siege in this novel, as respectable society tries (and fails) to go about business as usual, ignoring the threat that has literally come upon their doorsteps.

Dawn of the Dreadfuls was written as a prequel to Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, itself a mash-up of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, chronicling the events that led to the Bennett sisters becoming the undead killing machines of Smith’s novel.  It begins with a funeral (quite apt) and ends with a ballroom dance being crashed by some uninvited (and undead) guests.  Along the way we are introduced to the Bennett family, a family of more status than means.  While Mrs. Bennett seeks an amicable union for her daughters so as to assure a future of comfort and sensibility, Mr. Bennett curses himself for both not having sons and neglecting his daughters martial education.

The daughters themselves are a curious bunch. 

Jane, the eldest, is a demure portrait in modesty (so much so that you need use both words to describe her), yet equipped with a quick wit and an even quicker katana.  She’s the model of civility in such an age, yet  not above doing whatever needs to be done in pursuit of the greater good, whether allowing herself to be courted by an awful English dandy to satisfy her mother, or lopping the head of any dreadful to satisfy her father.  Elizabeth, our protagonist, is much less demure, possibly a quicker wit, and  has a much more realistic view of the world and people around her.  She’s also less mindful of modesty and more willing to ascribe to the axiom that life is, “nasty, brutish and short.”  Unless you strike first.  Mary, the self-absorbed bookworm, lost in her desire to show everyone up, whatever the issue, and finally Lydia and Kitty, too girls with nothing but air between their ears, yet natural skill with implements of death.

You can’t have a family of women in such a novel without a bevy of possible suitors, and Dawn of the Dreadfuls is chock full of them.  Remember, this is pre-Darcy, and Netherfield Park was not yet to be occupied by the Bingsley’s. No, in this prequel Netherfield is the domain of Lord Lumpley, a libertine of the worst sort, whose desperate pursuit of wine and women rules all his actions, and in this case, the object of his pursuit is Jane.  Such a beauty cannot only be the desire of one chunky lord, and his nemesis arrives in the form of Lt. Tindall, charged with protecting the small hamlet of Meryton from the recently unearthed.  He’s the model of a soldier, brave and talented, yet hidebound by the social convention that women are delicate flowers and hobbled by a regiment of recent inductees who barely know one end of a musket from the other. Nevertheless he knows how to put down a dreadful and learns to recognize that convention is all fine and good, ’til it stands between you and continuing life.

Of course, this novel is primarily about Elizabeth Bennett, and while she is cynical of men as a gender, her views are only enhanced by the vices exhibited by the two men in her life.  The first is the seemingly flawless master Hawksworth, an expert of the martial arts and belonging to an order that once put the dreadfuls in their place.  While demonstrating all the physical ability and military talent to deal with the threat, over time Hawksworth’s fatal flaw becomes apparent, both to the reader and Ms. Bennett.  His counterpart is the intellectually superior yet emotionally stunted  Dr. Kekilpenny, a man who would rather play around in his makeshift laboratory trying to rehabilitate the dreadfuls into proper English gentlemen than stand up and fight.  His bravery is obvious, but it’s born of obliviousness.

So, the scene is set, the characters have their places, and the reader is more than likely to be amused and enthralled by this surprisingly entertaining period piece.  Hockensmith manages to capture much of the subtle humour and most of the style  of Austen’s writing.  When talking of Mrs. Bennett’s personality, he inserts such thoughts as, “As always, she found facts antithetical to good conversation.” (pp. 142)  When writing of lord Lumpley’s excesses, such lines as:

“You and I must return to Netherfield at once Ms. Bennett.  Balls don’t throw themselves, you know, and I’m certain you will prove yourself ever so helpful with mine.” (pp. 180)

leap out at the reader and elicit a good chuckle. 

But it’s not all chuckles and wit.  If you’re looking for horror and mayhem, or simply relief from the boredom that comes from sense and sensibility in a time of polite society and debutante’s balls, then Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls is a must read.  Especially since Hockensmith has been commissioned to bookend Pride and Prejudice and Zombies with both this prequel and the forthcoming sequel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After, leaping off shelves to feast on the brains of horror readers March 22 of this year.

 

Night of the Living Trekkies-Kevin David Anderson and Sam Stall

 

  “They thought Space was the Final Frontier–They were wrong.”

 

Jim Pike is a man tortured by the events of his past.  An Afghanistan veteran in the throes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Jim has seen the bloodiest aspects of war and no longer wants the responsibility that came with his service.  In fact, he doesn’t want any real responsibility whatsoever, haunted as he is by the loss of several members of his platoon.  So, security guard at the Botany Bay Hotel and Conference Centre in the lovely town of Houston seems like the perfect fit. After all, the worst thing he’s going to have to deal with this weekend is a bunch of Star Trek geeks attending the annual GulfCon Star Trek convention.  Or so he thinks…(cue ominous music)

Just down the road the  Johnson Space Centre has been put into lockdown mode and convention goers are complaining about poor to nonexistent cell phone reception.  Even the televisions seem to be on the fritz.  To top off his day, Jim’s supervisor is missing, half the staff hasn’t shown up for work, and his sister Rayna is coming to town, bringing along a motley collection of Star Trek fans such as:

  • Matt Stockard–Wunderkind software developer drunk on his own dubious fame and possible paramour of Rayna’s (at least in his mind)
  • Gary Severin–Matt’s nominal boss, a stereotypically obese Sci-fi nerd and the foil of Matt’s excessive personality (picture comic book guy in a trek outfit)
  • T’Poc—Matt’s executive assistant and the girl who’s looking to hook up with Jim while wearing a suggestive outfit from the Star Trek Mirror Universe.

During the course of the next several hours, Jim’s finely honed sense of danger (which he first exhibited in Afghanistan while on patrol with his squad) keeps going off, but he’s too overwhelmed with the staff disappearances and his desire to connect with his sister to listen to them.  That is, until his manager points out that anyone leaving the complex for a smoke…never comes back.  Things quickly degenerate from there to an all out battle to stay alive in a convention centre populated by what at first glance appears to be the living dead.  Jim soon comes to realize that things are not what they seem, they’re even worse, and that the monstrous hordes may have an extraterrestrial connection to recent events at the Space centre involving the Genesis probe.  Luckily, a NASA exobiologist by the name of Sandoval may have the answers to their dilemna…if only they can find him before the Zombies do.

In the course of rounding up Rayna and her friends and trying to find a safe haven within the Hotel complex to hole up and wait for help, Jim comes across a girl dressed in a slave outfit (a la Princess Leia from Return of the Jedi).  Strangely enough, she’s handcuffed to a bed with a video camera set up.  Leia (not her real name) got herself mixed up in a little Star Trek dominatrix video and like everyone else, just wants to get out of Dodge.  Add one Klingon with a Bat’leth,  a guy in a red shirt with the unfortunate name “Willy Makit” (sound it out phonetically and you’ll get the joke) and the carnage begins.

The authors of Night of the Living Trekkies have created a unique perspective  on the Zombie genre.  Rather than those horror novels that leave the explanation of the Zombie outbreak to the reader’s imagination, they come up with an explanation of Zombism that has a scientific element to it.  The pathogen is extraterrestrial, much like in the Andromeda Strain with one twist…this time those affected don’t stay dead. 

Anderson and Stall are clearly Star Trek fans and have jam packed their novel with references both obvious and obscure.  Each chapter title is an homage to the original episodes, and Jim Pike’s name is a subtle reference to both Jim Kirk and the Enterprise’ first captain, Christopher PikeEven Dr. Sandoval’s name is a reference to a character in the original series (spoiler alert!) with a similar problem. 

Night of the Living Trekkies departs from your usual fan fiction…it’s actually good!  With a fast pace and interesting (although predictible) cast of characters, Night of the Living Trekkies takes the reader on a bloody yet satisfying journey into the world of Star Trek fandom while adding more than a dash of horror to complete the picture.

Publisher Quirk books has engaged on a unique marketing campaign to promote this book, investing in a faux movie trailer on youtube to showcase their author’s work.  Here’s hoping a full length feature is in the future.

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Quirk Classics

 

Quirk Classics certainly lives up to its name.

A quirky (pun very much intended) little publishing house, Quirk Classics has found its niche bridging the gulf between cultured literature and pop culture.  In other words, they’ve blended the classics with modern kitsch to create both a Frankenstein like creature and a new genre of fiction.  Or, as they put it, “To enhance classic novels with pop culture phenomena.”

A Monster Mash of sorts (Classical Mash?), they’ve filled the need (and based on the plethora of copycat novels apparently there was one) in readers for a new look at such titles as Pride and Prejudice (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), Sense and Sensibility (Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters), and (hey, why not?)…Anna Karenina (Android Karenina).

Their modus operandi is to grab up a public domain title (apparently Jane Austen is an easy target), get an author to add and subtract text…but just enough to alter the storyline without destroying the original…and voila!  Elizabeth Bennett becomes not so much an old maid looking for a Husband but rather a kick ass undead rekilling machine! Marianne Dashwood is courted by a fellow who resembles Davy Jones much more than an English Dandy.  And Anna Karenina…well, who wouldn’t love a Russian epic…now with more androids!

However, Quirk is not averse to original fiction…as long as it follows the formula of combining genres.  The first foray into 100% original fiction was a prequel to P&P&Z called Dawn of the Dreadfuls, an amusingly horrifying tale of the Bennetts’ daughter’s coming of age in a world beset by the undead.  Quirks latest publication is Night of the Living Trekkies, an oddball blend of Science Fiction and Zombies, Sci Fi conventions and mayhem (okay, that’s probably not a stretch), and virgins and…well…more virgins I guess…

Quirks Classics: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:Dawn of the Dreadfuls

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the DreadfulsWhile scrolling on-line today for reviews of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies:Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith, I came across a well thought out review on Den of the Geek!  From there, it was a quick jump to Quirk Classics to check out the rest of their inventory and discover that their next adorable abomination will be a new take on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, only with Robots!  Well, androids actually, hence the title…Android Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Ben H. Winters.

I’m sure some are mortified by Quirks take on such classics, but they’re a campy and fun addition to both the Monster Mash genre and an if you look at it with the right frame of mind…an homage to the originals.

And it has such a lovely trailer…