By Marty Mulrooney
Alternative Magazine Online recently reviewed Countdown City: The Last Policeman II by Ben H. Winters, describing it as “a sequel every bit the equal of its predecessor, with an ending that leaves no doubt that the final book will be similarly thought-provoking, emotional and gripping.” AMO is therefore proud to present yet another exclusive online interview with New York Times bestselling author Ben H. Winters, where we talk about winning the 2012 Edgar Award, the mystery of Hank Palace and writing the final book in the trilogy!
Hello Mr Winters, thank you for your time and welcome back to AMO!
Thanks a lot, my friend.
What have you been up to since our last interview at the end of 2012?
Oh, you know, mostly writing. Parenting, writing. Teaching. I suppose at the end of 2012 I was feverishly finishing Countdown City, so since then I finished it and immediately got to work on the third one, which will come out in the summer of this year.
The Last Policeman won the 2012 Edgar Award in the category Best Paperback Original – how did it feel to receive this award?
Amazing, to be totally honest. Absolutely amazing. I love writing mysteries, so it really does mean a lot to be giving an award by the Mystery Writers of America.
You followed The Last Policeman with Countdown City, which was published by Quirk Books earlier this year. What’s the premise of the sequel?
Detective Palace, now forcibly retired from the Concord Police Department, goes on a missing-person investigation on behalf of a childhood friend. In a rapidly disintegrating world, a missing-person investigation is no easy proposition – but, you know, he is who he is.
How did you manage to write a follow-up in such a short amount of time?! 🙂
When I was just a small boy, I heard a murmuring voice that told me to go down to the crossroads, and when I got there I was enticed to sell my immortal soul to the Great Lord Satan in exchange for the ability to quickly generate works of fiction.
Just kidding. I turn the internet off on my computer. That helps a ton.
What was it like taking part in the Countdown City book tour?
Fun. Tiring. I missed my kids. I got to see cities I had never seen, like San Francisco and Seattle, and I wandered their hilly streets, jet-lagged and confused, and then in the evenings I read aloud to kind strangers. Can’t complain!
Would you say that Hank Palace has changed much between the events of the two books?
I would leave that to the reader. I think the world has changed more than he has, but inevitably he is not the man that he was. I will say that, now, writing book 3, I see a marked change in the guy. The dog, too.
How has the world around Hank changed between The Last Policeman and Countdown City?
It is certainly darker and more chaotic. Whereas a strong humanitarian and Samaritan impulse lives and breathes in the world of Last Policeman, and there is some modicum of law and order and a functioning commercial economy, by the events of Countdown City – and certainly by the end of Countdown City – all of that is a memory. So it’s a tough, tough world, and it batters poor Hank around quite a bit.
In Countdown City, Hank isn’t a policeman anymore – so what drives him? I know this is a question that he often asks himself!
I think if I answered that question I’d be taking a bit of the fun away of this book – of these books, I should say. The mystery of Palace’s character is (I hope) equal to or greater than the proper “mysteries” of the stories themselves.
Without giving too much away – who is Brett Cavatone?
He is the runaway husband at the centre of Countdown City. He used to be a cop (a state trooper, in fact), and now he has disappeared – presumably to pursue his own selfish interests in the final days of humanity, like a lot of people. But his wife, Martha (who used to be Hank’s babysitter, long, long ago) feels there must be something more to it. He would never just up and leave her, no matter what the circumstances. He’s not that kind of guy. And I guess the question is, if the circumstances are right (or wrong, I guess you’d say), couldn’t anybody turn into that kind of guy?
In my review of Countdown City, I said how “It’s not unusual for the middle instalment of a trilogy to sag, but Countdown City positively soars.” Following the critical acclaim for The Last Policeman, was it daunting writing a sequel?
Fortunately, I was already well underway on the sequel – plotting it out, considering the characters and the story – before TLP even came out. And any positive feedback only validated my sense that I know what the hell I’m doing when I sit down to write.
Did Countdown City require as much research as the first book?
Not quite as much, because I didn’t have to learn about asteroids all over again. I did do a lot of interviews, though, including with a former Green Beret, who told me all about treating gunshot wounds if you’re alone in the wilderness.
There is a dark humour that runs throughout both books – do you think it’s important to include some levity when writing about what is essentially quite a terrifying prospect?
Important only in the sense that if this were a real true thing that were happening, I guarantee you that a lot of people would be making darkly sarcastic remarks right up until the whole world exploded. That’s just how people are: everyone has their own way of dealing with horror, and one very popular method is gallows humour.
Houdini the dog returns! Do you have any pets of your own?
A white kitten with a cream tail named Sachiko. She hangs out in my attic office and chases herself around in circles, which is often what writing feels like, so we’re a bit of a team up there.
Hank’s troubled sister Nico also returns – theirs is a very complicated relationship indeed. Do you think they’re similar in more ways than they perhaps realise, or would care to admit?
I’m going to file that under “let the reader decide.” I have tried to make them really feel like true siblings, for all their differences.
There have been reports since we last spoke that producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura has optioned The Last Policeman for a possible television series – do you have any updates about this?
Nope. I think of Hollywood like the pretty girls I liked in high school: I know I’m interested, I don’t know what they’re up to, if anything works out I’ll be over the moon, but I also try not to get too worked up about it.
Have you started writing the final book in the trilogy?
Oh, yes. I’m halfway done – a bit more than halfway, in fact.
Has a title been decided yet – or a release date?
Title no. Release date is mid-July 2014.
Can you give AMO’s readers a tiny little tease of the plot for the final book? Or is such information top secret, like the whereabouts of Nico’s husband Derek Skeve? 🙂
Well, I can tell you that it is set very very close to the day that the asteroid is scheduled to make impact. I can tell you that Hank is pushed yet further out of his comfort zone. There is murder in it – more than one murder, actually. And fire. And horses. It’s probably not as funny as the last ones, probably a bit heavier. And I think it’s the book in which Hank emerges as a true hero. To me, anyway.
Thank you for your time! I’m a massive fan, I absolutely loved The Last Policeman and Countdown City and I cannot wait to read the final book in the trilogy!
I really, really appreciate it. Thank you for reading the books, thank you for writing about the books. I will be delighted to chat again when #3 is out.