The Reason It’s An Emergency

Have you seen me? I will save you some time. No, you have not seen me, because I have recently been taken hostage. Not that any of you have noticed my crisis literary situation. What, exactly, does it take to create a sense of urgency here? I need to be rescued before it’s too late. Since nobody understands how dangerous this situation is, I am taking matters into my own hands and executing a really flashy rescue operation. Like, Kiefer Sutherland combined with Agent Carter levels of flashy. FLASHY.

Why is all this necessary? Well, a few weeks ago, I obtained the book The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters. I bought it accidentally (and lest you think I am repeating myself, I am. I also told this story here. Pipe down. This is MY rescue operation and it requires exposition.) The Last Policeman, as I soon discovered, is both a science fiction book and the first book in a trilogy. Seriously, I was pissed. I don’t SciFi and I didn’t have time to indulge my book OCD with a trilogy because I am very busy and important. I figured I had a hateread on my hands because I always know everything. Like Grace Kelly pumping her own gas, I decided to rise to the occasion, plaster a smile on my face and read it.

I could not put down The Last Policeman. I hid from people so I could finish it uninterrupted. Subsequently, I picked up the next book in the trilogy…then the third book…and I was through the looking glass, people. It is Bookreason’s policy to never negotiate with novelists, but I have no choice. I’m never getting out of here otherwise. Here is a rundown of my Ben H. Winters takeover.

The Last Policeman  The gateway book. Police officer Henry Palace is promoted to detective in his small New Hampshire town at the same time it’s determined an asteroid is on a direct collision path with Earth.

Countdown City The asteroid gets closer. There’s less time on everyone’s clock. Henry Palace agrees to help a friend search for her missing husband.

World Of Trouble Time has almost run out. Henry Palace attempts to hold on to his only family by trying to save his headstrong, reckless sister from herself.

One of the enjoyable, almost comfortable aspects of reading a series – crime series in particular – is getting to know a particular set of characters as they navigate through different circumstances. The settings for the character roster change; the behavior of the characters does not. There is always a definite cast of folks you expect popping up in each book. The wise, world-weary mentor, the hot mess best friend, the crazy but insightful neighbor…you get the idea. Ben H. Winters, however, does not. Ben H. Winters gives no fucks about making you feel comfortable or familiar with recurring characters in The Last Policeman series. Instead, he threads this series together by asking the same question of the main character over and over: How do you live your life when the apocalypse is no longer abstract, but has a precise date and time? Henry Palace is left to navigate his new world in surprising, subtle, subversive ways. These books just flat refuse to be predictable.

After finishing  The Last Policeman series, I figured I was done with Ben H. Winters and moved on to my next book. Turns out it wasn’t my decision any more. Not even reading Elena Ferrante (My Brilliant Friend, for the record) could knock World Of Trouble out of my head. I had checked into the Hotel Ben-ifornia. I can check out anytime I like, but I can’t never leave.

Underground Airlines What if the United States never fought the Civil War? What if slavery were legal today, right now? This book imagines that grim alternate outcome in an America hard divided by a Mason-Dixon line that’s a border with checkpoints. Underground Airlines is a gut punch. Ben H. Winter’s worldbuilding is frighteningly specific, laying out a whole history that begins with the Lincoln administration, Supreme Court rulings that cement slavery into the identity of the U.S., and a present-day culture of complacency, enforcement, and protest. The Underground Airline is the escape route out of states where slavery is legal, and the story centers around a US Marshals agent,Victor, whose job it is to track down and return escaped slaves. The reason Victor has this job, and how he goes about doing it, makes for a riveting, thoughtful, revolutionary look at the soul-killing compromises we as humans accept to make the unthinkable normal.

Bedbugs After I finished Underground Airlines, I grabbed Bedbugs. Because at this point, I have Stockholm Syndrome, and if it’s not a Ben H. Winters book I don’t know how to read it. The moral of the Bedbugs story is, if you find an amazingly great apartment in Brooklyn, it’s only because those Rosemary’s Baby people couldn’t afford Manhattan anymore and had to set up in an outer borough. It’s a trap, people. Settle for the 1BR basement place that smells like cabbage. You will be better off. This book is seriously creepy and a perfect read for Halloween season. Also, if you don’t like bug stuff, stay the hell away from this book. I don’t like bug stuff, but Ben H. Winters doesn’t care. I had to read it anyway. Because that is how it goes when you’re a literary hostage.

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You know what, y’all? He’s not really that sorry.

 

Using all my copies of Ben H. Winters books, I have managed to spell out S O S so when the search planes fly over, they’ll be able to spot me. I’ve also managed to untie my hands so I can tap out a signal on the window in hopes someone will hear me (which is an actual thing that happens in one of the books listed here. EASTER EGG, BITCHES)

#sos

Action Items
Read Underground Airlines. Seriously. Like right now.

The Reason I’m ImPoesing

When it comes to looking for new reading material, I’m both lazy and impatient, so one of my favorite hacks is culling titles from award lists. I mean, if something was nominated for an award, it’s probably good, and I didn’t have to go to all the effort of looking at a whole bunch of books and making a decision. Those poor suckers on the award committees had to do all that work. My favorite awards list is the Edgar Awards, named for Edgar Allen Poe and presented yearly by the Mystery Writers of America. The Edgar Awards recognize mystery and crime fiction/non-fiction writing and they know how to pick ‘em. I’m always finding great books on the Edgar lists. Feel free to check them out yourself, or if you are even lazier than I am, pick from my list of Edgar Award authors below. Stop complaining–there are only two. Jeez.

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You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

I have a recurring dream about elevators. I’m in a giant, casino-hotel-sized building and I get on the elevator to go to a high floor. After I press the button, the elevator starts to move, but instead of going up, it goes sideways or diagonally or backward. The elevator walls are glass, so I can look out and view the odd angles the elevator is traveling, but I don’t have any way to change direction or arrest momentum because the elevator buttons don’t work. That slippery feeling of witnessing your own powerlessness is perfectly captured in Megan Abbott’s new book, You Will Know Me. Set in the suburban world of competitive gymnastics, the book introduces the Knox family: father Eric, mother Katie, 10-year-old son Drew, and the otherworldly-gifted gymnastics dynamo, 14-year-old daughter Devon. Like a weird dream that takes place in an ordinary setting, Abbott’s writing builds tension in banal places, driving this murder mystery story from perceptions and points of view. You Will Know Me is ultimately Katie’s story, showcasing the choices the mother of an extraordinarily talented child will make in extraordinary circumstances. When your family’s status quo includes a future Olympics on the horizon, how does that distort the prism through which a mother views her world? I loved this book—once I opened it, I could not put it down. I am definitely going to be giving the gymnasts in Rio serious side-eye because I never knew gymnastics could be this murdery.

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The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters

I grabbed The Last Policeman after gleaning “New Hampshire rookie detective” from the summary I skimmed. Imagine my surprise when I found I’d purchased science fiction. Science fiction is my third-rail genre, y’all. The Last Policeman’s premise is not so much apocalyptic as pre-apocalyptic. An asteroid is on a direct flight to collide with and destroy Earth in six months – how, then, does one spend the time on the countdown clock? Personally, I’d have some sort of epic French-onion-dip consumption plan, but main character Detective Hank Palace is a better person than I am. Trying to live out his lifelong dream of being a professional policeman in an increasingly chaotic world, Palace is nobly fighting an uphill battle. Winters poses intriguing (and uncomfortable) questions about how much our humanity is tied to infrastructure and technology. Does Hank Palace’s loyalty to an old-fashioned sense of personal honor have a place in a society no longer constrained by any fear of accountability? I loved that push and pull in this book. The Last Policeman is the first book in a trilogy, and I’ve read the second one, Countdown City, and I’ve got the third one, World Of Trouble, on deck, so yes-I am reading science fiction now, apparently. (I assume the series stopped at three because that asteroid finally lands). Final score: Science Fiction 3, Bookreasons 1.

#edgarawards

Action Items
The 2016 Edgar Awards were presented in April. Check out that list, along with prior year winners and nominees, at http://www.theedgars.com/index.html