“The Last Policeman” is a very interesting mix of apocalyptica, murder mystery, and a possible rising dystopia and asks us a very important existential question – “If the world were about to end, does investigating a maybe-murder really rank on things that should be done?”. So I asked Ben more about the book, his process, and what we can expect from the next two books in the series behind the jump. Definitely recommended reading – it was AWESOME, you guys. You can read my complete thoughts on the book in my review of the book here.
And now, without further ado…
USAGI: Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Ben! It means a lot. Now, to the first question – Why set a police procedural at the end of the world?
BEN H. WINTERS: The end of the world is just an interesting place to be. And I liked the idea of taking this classic genre, or sub-genre, really, where we’re watching a determined cop solve one tricky case, and putting a totally unexpected spin on it. What’s more unexpected than death from above?
U: It feels like you’ve matured greatly between this and “Bedbugs”. Can you describe your process, or anything that might have changed while creating this book compared to “Bedbugs” or earlier works?
BHW: Thanks. I think what you’re responding to is my effort to make sure this book reached beyond the conventions of the police-procedural genre, and also the conventions of the apocalypse genre, and became something more thoughtful and philosophical. It’s not really a novel about the end of the world, it’s a novel about one man, and his belief in right and wrong.
U: Congrats on the “Bedbugs” movie deal! Any word on “Last Policeman” possibly coming to theatres yet? (If you can talk about it, that is)
BHW: Nothing more than rumor and speculation. I’m always hopeful, but one can’t rely on these things.
U: You’re creating a soundtrack for “Last Policeman”. You get eight tracks – make them count. Choose eight tracks and list them – and maybe a brief bit on why you feel they fit the book.
BHW: It would be all Dylan, and it would be all seventies and nineties Dylan, since that’s what Detective Palace likes and I feel I have to abide by that. You gotta lead off with Slow Train Coming, because that’s where I got the epigraph, and that was actually the original title of the book. But then I would throw in something from Street Legal, maybe No Time to Think or We Better Talk This Over, and then I’d go to Workingman’s Blues from Modern Times, which was the song I always thought of when I was writing JT Toussaint.
The list would not include the REM song It’s the End of the World as we Know It (And I Feel Fine), though I love that song. It might include the Elvis Costello song Waiting for the End of the World, but I might go with Tokyo Storm Warning as the more sophisticated Costello-world’s-end song, instead.
U: What can we look forward to in terms of books 2 and 3?
BHW: A lot of dance numbers. Just kidding. Palace’s cases are only going to get trickier, and the world is only going to get harder to navigate.
U:Talk to me about Palace – how did he come about?
BHW: The most interesting thing to me about this scenario was always the character at the center. With all this chaos unfolding, all this devastation about to occur, who is the guy who stays on the job? Who hews to his belief in right and wrong, and his sense of duty, no matter what? That was the portrait I wanted to paint.
U: What inspires you?
BHW: Great books. I always say, if you want to learn to write, learn to read—meaning read actively, and learn to interrogate the books you read, to figure out what makes them tick. The first big book I did was Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, and I learned more from taking apart the Austen novel, tracing the story lines and examining the characters, than I have from any writing class.
U: How much research did you do when creating this book? Who did you talk to?
BHW: A lot. I talked to people from both sides, meaning from law enforcement (prosecutors, cops, forensic pathologists) as well as asteroid science (astrophysicists, etc.) My favorite interviews, though, might have been with sociologists and economists, as I tried to figure out how the world would function, or fail to function, as people stopped saving money, stopped planting crops, walked off their jobs, and so on.
U: If you could cast a film for this book, who would you pick for Palace, Zell, Fenton, Littlejohn, and the rest?
BHW: I actually just did a thing about this, so I’m going to be a little lazy and link to it — here. And I’ll just add that, for JT Toussaint, I would hire John Goodman, twenty years ago. Dr. Fenton, maybe Susan Sarandon.
U: Finally, is there a message you want your readers to get out of this novel? If so, what is it?
BHW: I always think it would be sort of obnoxious for me, as the author, to tell people what to get out of the book. I hope people find it enjoyable, for sure, and I hope it makes them think—but think about what, I would not presume to say.
U: Thanks for stopping by, Ben! Remember, “The Last Policeman” is on sale now from Quirk/Random House in North America, so be sure to check it out! It’s definitely worth the read.