Friday, July 12, 2013

Interview with Ben H. Winters, author of The Last Policeman and Countdown City - July 12, 2013

Please welcome Ben H. Winters to The Qwillery. Ben won a 2013 Edgar Award for The Last Policeman, the first novel in The Last Policeman Trilogy. Today we talk about Countdown City, the second novel in the Trilogy, which will be published on July 16th.

TQ:  Welcome back to The Qwillery and congratulations on your Edgar Award for The Last Policeman!

Ben:  Thanks a lot. Winning was definitely unexpected -- there is in fact a video on the Quirk website of the moment they announced my name, and you can see that I’m surprised to the point of being sort of confused.

TQ:  Tell us something about Countdown City (The Last Policeman 2) that is not in the book description.

Ben:  Where The Last Policeman was more or less a traditional police procedural, at least in its structure, Countdown City is a bit more of an adventure story. There is definitely still a central mystery (a missing person this time) and plenty of Hank Palace digging up clues and piecing them together, but this time around everything is more hands on, more physically difficult as opposed to just intellectually so. This book begins just 74 days before the end of the world, and as doomsday gets closer, people are on the move, people are nervous, so there is more violence, more of the constant tension created by the threat of violence. Hank also has to leave Concord and go on the road to solve the case, so the book has a larger canvas.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Countdown City beyond what you've done for The Last Policeman?

Ben:  There is more in this book than the first one about what the impact aftermath might look like, so I did a fair amount of research into the science of the dinosaur extinction: how long did it take after the thing hit before they were all dead, what exactly did they die of, and so on. I also had to write a long section in which a character suffers a grievous injury and faces a difficult recovery (in a world where doctors and hospitals are harder to come by), so I got into that with some doctors I know, and a former Green Beret. The other really delightful piece of research I did on this one was a long solo road trip around New Hampshire and southern Maine, a sort of “location scouting” trip; there’s one location in particular that I stumbled across, a seaside fort, that became a central setting in the book.

TQ:  Without giving anything away, what is/are your favorite scene(s) in Countdown City?

Ben:  Wow, that’s always such a hard question to answer. There’s a part where one of my favorite characters from The Last Policeman turns up, and I wasn’t sure if this character would be coming back till I got there, and I was so happy about it.

But probably my favorite is the trial scene. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that Hank makes a trip to the University of New Hampshire, which in the end days has been turned into an almost Occupy-Wall-Street-style collective. There he ends up sitting in a lecture hall, witnessing the very chaotic trial of one member of this ad hoc society. The scene gave me an opportunity to tease out some of the main themes of the trilogy—the durability of justice and ethical behavior, and the functioning of institutions and individuals under extreme duress. Plus, it’s (hopefully) pretty funny.

TQ:  In our last interview, you stated that Nico Palace was the most surprising character in The Last Policeman. In the series so far is she still the most surprising character or has someone from Countdown City taken her place or become equaling surprising?

Ben:  I still love Nico. I love writing her, I love thinking about her, I love her relationship with her brother, which (cheesy writer alert) I keep learning about as I go.

But having said that, the most surprising character for me is the dog, Houdini. When I introduced him in The Last Policeman, it was in order to more fully paint the picture of his then-owner, the drug dealer and roustabout JT Toussaint. Never did I imagine that he would become Palace’s dog, and, in some ways, his best friend.

TQ:  You are living in the world you've created in the series - how will you spend your last 6 months?

Ben:  Well, I’m not Hank Palace; I would definitely not go around solving complicated, dangerous mysteries. But I don’t think I would run off to Tahiti or anything like that, either—I think I would hang around my house with my kids, read a lot of books, take what small pleasures I could. Try to stay safe in what I am fairly sure (given my copious research on the subject) will be a pretty dangerous time in human history.

TQ:  What's next?

Ben:  Basically, I’m hard at work on Book 3 in The Last Policeman trilogy. Coming out of Countdown City I have a very strong idea of what happens next, and I decided to not really take a break—I’m just writing the thing. I wrote the last chapter first.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Ben:  It’s my pleasure. Thanks for reading my books.

The Last Policeman Trilogy (so far)

Countdown City
The Last Policeman 2
Quirk Books, July 16, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 320 pages

The Last Policeman received the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original--along with plenty of glowing reviews.

Now Detective Hank Palace returns in Countdown City, the second volume of the Last Policeman trilogy. There are just 77 days before a deadly asteroid collides with Earth, and Detective Palace is out of a job. With the Concord police force operating under the auspices of the U.S. Justice Department, Hank's days of solving crimes are over...until a woman from his past begs for help finding her missing husband.

Brett Cavatone disappeared without a trace—an easy feat in a world with no phones, no cars, and no way to tell whether someone’s gone “bucket list” or just gone. With society falling to shambles, Hank pieces together what few clues he can, on a search that leads him from a college-campus-turned-anarchist-encampment to a crumbling coastal landscape where anti-immigrant militia fend off “impact zone” refugees.

Countdown City presents another fascinating mystery set on brink of an apocalypse--and once again, Hank Palace confronts questions way beyond "whodunit." What do we as human beings owe to one another? And what does it mean to be civilized when civilization is collapsing all around you?

The Last Policeman
The Last Policeman 1
Quirk Books,May 13, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
(originally published on July 10, 2012)

Winner of the 2013 Edgar® Award Winner for Best Paperback Original!

What’s the point in solving murders if we’re all going to die soon, anyway?

Detective Hank Palace has faced this question ever since asteroid 2011GV1 hovered into view. There’s no chance left. No hope. Just six precious months until impact.

The Last Policeman presents a fascinating portrait of a pre-apocalyptic United States. The economy spirals downward while crops rot in the fields. Churches and synagogues are packed. People all over the world are walking off the job—but not Hank Palace. He’s investigating a death by hanging in a city that sees a dozen suicides every week—except this one feels suspicious, and Palace is the only cop who cares.

The first in a trilogy, The Last Policeman offers a mystery set on the brink of an apocalypse. As Palace’s investigation plays out under the shadow of 2011GV1, we’re confronted by hard questions way beyond “whodunit.” What basis does civilization rest upon? What is life worth? What would any of us do, what would we really do, if our days were numbered?

About Ben

Ben H. Winters is the author of six novels, including the New York Times bestseller Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and the middle-grade novel The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman, an Edgar Award nominee and a Bank Street College Best Children’s Book of 2011. Winters’ other books include the science-fiction Tolstoy parody Android Karenina, the Finkleman sequel The Mystery of the Missing Everything, the supernatural thriller Bedbugs, and the The Last Policeman.

Winters also wrote the book and lyrics for three musicals for young audiences: The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, A (Tooth) Fairy Tale, and Uncle Pirate, based on the award-winning children’s book by Douglas Rees.

He is at work on a book of scary poems for kids, to be published by Price Stern Sloan in spring, 2013.

Website  ~  The Last Policeman Website  ~  Twitter @BenHWinters  ~  The Last Policeman on Facebook

The Giveaway

What:  One commenter will win a copy of Countdown City from Quirk Books. US/CANADA  ONLY

How:   Log into and follow the directions in the Rafflecopter below.

Who and When: The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a US or Canadian mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59 PM US Eastern Time on July 21, 2013. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change.*

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Maybe re-read one or two of my favorite books of all time & watch my favorite movies. Travel as much as I can. Try to have as much fun as possible.

  2. I would spend the time left with my husband and pets--enjoying every minute--lots of golf and playing in the sunshine.

  3. Traveling with husband and son and watching twilight series and over again and reading. Thanks for the giveaway.

  4. I'd probably make a list of things I've always wanted to do and then try to complete the list as much as possible. Traveling would be on it, spending time with friends and family, being open to new experiences, and just trying to be happy for the time I have left.

  5. I'd spend as much time as I possible could w/ friends, family and my dogs :) Then do all of the things I've always wanted to do if I could. Thanks for the great post and giveaway!

  6. I'm not really sure. It would take me a while to process the information first. I'm sure a certain amount of indulgence would be part of my last 6 months. Thanks for the giveaway.

  7. Reading, cooking, traveling, seeing friends and family that are not local...