We were very excited to have Ben H. Winters join us at’s The Digital Shift: Libraries, Ebooks and Beyond virtual conference. Ben chatted with librarians about his gripping new novel, The Last Policeman which is the first book in an end-of-the-world trilogy.
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?
BEN H. WINTERS CHAT
RH Erica: Excited to chat, Ben! Thanks for joining us!
Ben H. Winters: My pleasure, thank you.
RH Kelly: OK, we are excited to talk today about The Last Policeman your first book in your end-of-the-world trilogy– welcome!
Ben H. Winters: Well, thanks very much.
RH Kelly: I don’t know what to talk about first with you…Bedbugs, Sea Monsters or asteroids.
RH Kelly: All fun topics 🙂
Ben H. Winters: It’s quite the smorgasbord, I know. I enjoy my work.
RH Kelly: My first question is…has to be… Is the world REALLY going to end in these books, or will there be the 11th hour save?
RH Kelly: Because I have to say, I became quite attached to Hank Palace.
Ben H. Winters: You know, a lot of people have asked me that.
Ben H. Winters: And thank you. I’m quite attached to Hank, too.
RH Kelly:: Are you avoiding the question??
RH Kelly: Just kidding – You don’t have to answer.
Ben H. Winters: Readers are free to have hope, as a lot of people in the story doó as a lot of people in reality of couse would.
Ben H. Winters: But I’ve tried to be pretty clear that, at least from Hank’s POV, and the POV of clear-headed people who trust science, it’s a done deal. Asteroid’s gonna hit, and it ain’t gonna be pretty.
RH Kelly: I love how the book seems to break “end-of -the-worlders” up into 3 groups- the bucket listers, the suicides and the people like Hank- staying the course
Ben H. Winters: I never wanted to write a “how will we stop it in time?” book.
RH Kelly: What kind of reaction have you gotten from readers- which group do you think most people are “falling” into?
Ben H. Winters: In book 2, which I’m working on righ now, you start to see more flavors of reaction.
Ben H. Winters: Most people think they would be bucket listers, but I bet a lot would be stay the coursers, even if they don’t think so now.
Ben H. Winters: Sociologists tell us that in times of distress, societies can remain remarkably stable.
RH Kelly: Yea, because in the beginning of the book I thought- why does he care how this guy died- and then by the end I aprreciated his commitment
Krista: What sort of research did you do to write this book?
Ben H. Winters: A bunch, Krista, in two specific areas: asteroid science, and forensic pathology. Both fascinating, if a little grim.
RH Kelly: When can readers expect Book 2, and has the proposed TV Series changed the plot at all? Congratulations, by the way, on the TV Show
Ben H. Winters: I have a friend of a friend who is a coroner, in New Orleans, and she walked me through the corpse science. And I befriended an accomplihed astronomer, who helped me figure out how to desroy the earth from space.
RH Kelly: The research must have been very interesting- did you spend lots of time in a morgue?
Ben H. Winters: Thanks, Kelly. No, I’m not letting the possibility of a TV version change what I want to write — they’ve got their whole own alternate universe out there.
Ben H. Winters: I just mean, by the time they write one episode, I’ll probably be done with the second novel.
RH Kelly: That’s good to hear! Readers love that kind of answer 🙂
Ben H. Winters: Kelly, no, I did not go to a morgue. I did wander around Concord Hospital a lot, though, and those descriptions are pretty accurate.
RH Kelly: They seemed very accurate!
Ben H. Winters: Oh, and so in re: Book 2, Palace is on a mising person’s case, sort of against his will, and he travels from Concord much ore than in Book 1 — he goes to Durham, where UNH is, and up to Maine.
Ben H. Winters: It’s three months later, too, so the world has continued to fall apart quite a bit–the currency has collapsed, there’s no real infrastructure to speak of. Hard times.
Elizabeth: With all that reasearch, how long did it take you to write the book? Did you know the plot before you began, or did the characters take you in different places than you expected?
Ben H. Winters: Elizabeth, it was about a year from page one to the end. And I ended up way, ay far off from my initial ideaóhe was going to be tracing a serial killer, originally, which when I look back is a terrible idea. How many high concepts can one book hold?
Brad: Hi Ben- seems that apocolyptic thrillers are “the in thing” now (and have always been one of my favorite genres since Stephen King’s THE STAND). Have you always been a fan of this genre? And if so, what are your favorite books you’ve personally read?
Ben H. Winters: Brad, i LOVE the STand. Love it. It’s not a genre I reach for, tho, in particular. Have you read Riddley Walker, though, by Russel Hoban? That’s the one to bat.
RH Kelly: Ben, I am wondering if you read The Age of Miracles? A book that came out this summer from KAren Thompson Walker, I think your books make a good pair-
Ben H. Winters: Kelly, I haven’t yet, I’m embarassed to say. When they announced the title, i was still working on Policeman, and I didn’t want to fall under its influence. But I will, one of these days!
Brad: Great comparison, Kelly! Also REALLY enjoyed THE DOG STARS! No, Ben, I haven’t read that one but will put it on my ever-growing “wish list” of things to read. 🙂
Ben H. Winters: Russel Hoban is awesome, Brad. Riddley Walker is a brutal, weird, post-nuclear dreamscape. He also wrote Bread and Jam for Francis. So you know this was a brilliant man.
Skip: Did I read somewhere that your book is going to be a TV series?
Ben H. Winters: Skip, you did ó I should say, it’s been optioned, by ABC Studios, but that’s obviously not the same as on the air. Finges crossed.
RH Kelly: Considering your history with Bedbugs and Sea Monsters and Mash-ups, did you enjoy writing a more realistic fiction type of story with more of a personal story to it?
Ben H. Winters: I did very much. Those books were joyful, joyful experiences, but it was definitely time for me to add some depth and thoughtfulness to my experiemnts in genre fiction.
Krista: How did you choose to set your book in New Hampshire?
Ben H. Winters: My brother has lived in Concord, NH, for about 15 years, I think, and I love it there. I was living in the Boston area when I wrote this, so got to hang ou with him. And it’s a mavelous setting for various reasons.
RH Kelly: I like the setting too– taking a perfect view of “Americana” and then hurling an asteroid at them…Was that your intention?
Ben H. Winters: Basically. Concord is not a small town, but it’s smallish, and it’s ruralish without being provincial. It is all-American, in this idiosyncrati New Hampshire way.
Ben H. Winters: Originally I was thinking I would set this in Ne wYork, but a New Yorkcrime novel is all about New York. This didn’t want to be a big city story.
RH Kelly: I think the small town feel against the backdrop of the HUGE asteroid is perfect!
Lara: Okay, I have to ask. Ben, what would you do if you knew there was a meteor headed for Earth? Start crossing off the bucket list? Hurry up and finish the trilogy?
Ben H. Winters: Lara, ha! I have joked that I’m under contract to finish the sequel, so that would be first. 🙂
Ben H. Winters: But no, I think I would really just hang out with my kids. Read them books, play at the playground Try to make sure thy didn’t hear about what was going on.
RH Kelly: One other question…changing topics…
RH Kelly: Have you heard anything more about the Begbugs movie?
Ben H. Winters: I have not, Kelly. The last I heard there was a script being written.
RH Kelly: Have to tell you no other title makes people squirm here at Random House as much…
Ben H. Winters: My philosophy with Hollywood is, basically, I’ll start celebratig when I’m actually sitting in the theater, eating my popcorn.
Skip: Johnny Depp is who I see as the Last Policeman
Ben H. Winters: That’s awesome, Skip. I picture Jim True-Frost, who played Detective Prezbelewski on The Wire — you remember him?
Ben H. Winters: But I’d be very happy with Johnny Depp, thanks.
Skip: He has the right look. I also think a Hugh Laurie type.
RH Kelly: Ben, we are really looking forward to the next book– all of your titles are exciting…
Ben H. Winters: Thanks so much Kelly. I’m going back to writing it right now, so wish me luck!
RH Kelly: We will – and I do hope Detective Palace finds the bad guys…
RH Kelly: And love.
Ben H. Winters: so long, RH — have (digital) fun.
RH Kelly: I’d hang out with him if the world was ending- he’s that kind of guy!
RH Kelly: Thank you- it was so nice to chat with you!
Ben H. Winters: I actually got an email from a woman who said she was in love with him.
Ben H. Winters: My pleasure! So long.
RH Kelly: Funny — I don’t blame her!
RH Kelly: Thanks Ben.