Hank Palace, a police detective in Concord, New Hampshire, is investigating the death of a man who was found hanged in a McDonald’s bathroom. His fellow police officers are certain it’s a suicide, and with good reason: an asteroid is hurtling towards Earth, and collision is both certain and imminent. As a result, suicides are on the rise, along with a variety of other behaviors. Some people are “bucket listers,” quitting their jobs to chase their lifelong dreams while they still can. Some people turn to religion, others to drugs. In these circumstances, one more dead man — especially one who appears to have hanged himself — doesn’t matter very much to the police. But Hank suspects that there’s something wrong about this suicide, and he’s determined to discover what really happened. He uncovers several more mysteries in his investigation, including a hidden cache of drugs and a beautiful woman who knows more than she’s saying. But the biggest obstacle of all is the widespread indifference to his quest. If the end of the world is imminent, does one potential murder even matter?
This novel is an interesting combination of two popular genres, the police procedural and the apocalyptic novel, and I think it’s a fairly successful one. Hank Palace is a dry, unintentionally funny narrator who manages to retain some of his ideals despite the cynicism of his surroundings. Even though he knows that life is about to change forever (assuming life will continue at all after the asteroid hits), he remains devoted to his job. But the world of this novel is even more interesting than its narrator. I think the various reactions of people in the book to the impending catastrophe are very plausible. And the details Hank lets slip about the new role of government are as realistic as they are chilling. In this world, every crime is punishable by death or life imprisonment. There is no habeas corpus, so anyone suspected of lawbreaking is condemned without trial. The US Constitution is still the law of the land, but it’s impossible to enforce — and most government officials and police officers don’t really care. Overall, I was fascinated by the setting of this novel and will eventually continue with the series to see what happens.