I don't know if he drinks Dos Equis, but he's written a science fictional Tolstoy parody called Android Karenina, he's written a young adult mystery that was nominated for an Edgar Award, he's written the horror thriller Bedbugs and the New York Times best seller Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters. He's written the book and lyrics for musicals, and he's working on a book of scary poems for kids.
I'm probably missing something in his oeuvre, but you get the picture. He's a bit of a genre-buster. Winter's latest book The Last Policeman certainly falls into that category, as it's a pre-apocalyptic novel about a policeman trying to solve a murder while an asteroid is hurtling toward earth (expected to bring total destruction within about six months). We liked it so much, we picked The Last Policeman for our July Best of the Month.
Read on for a brief conversation with Ben Winters, as he talks about The Last Policeman:
The Last Policeman is set in a world in which a massive asteroid is hurtling toward Earth, but the novel centers on one detective's murder investigation. Where did you get the idea to combine these two disparate elements of storytelling?
Well, you know, story ideas are like giant planet-dooming asteroids: they always take you by surprise. But I've always had a soft spot for certain kinds of science fiction, books that imagine one grand change to the human situation and tease it out. P. D. James's Children of Men is a marvelous example, or Philip JosÃ© Farmer's Riverworld series.
The "pre-apocalyptic" side of this "pre-apocalyptic murder mystery" definitely came first. I thought it would be fascinating to imagine my way into the sad and terrifying last months of civilization. Then I set about imagining the right hero for this kind of book, and I thought that what I needed was someone who is extremely dedicated to his work, who cannot let the world end before solving the puzzle before him. That's where the character of Detective Henry Palace came from, my intensely, even bizarrely dedicated public servant.
The obligatory question: What would you do if Earth would be annihilated in six months?
Well, I'm under contract with Quirk Books to write the sequel to The Last Policeman, so first I'd get that done.
Just kidding. I think, honestly, that I would spend time with my children. I'd read them a lot of books, and take them to beautiful places, and try to prevent them from hearing anything about what was coming. (The idea of that, by the way, makes me tearful, as it did periodically over the course of writing this.)
Can you give us any details about the upcoming second and third novels in the series?
Like The Last Policeman, each of the sequels will have at its center a crime that Palace is trying to solve. But, also like this one, each will be at least equally interested in the details of the disintegrating world, and in plumbing the psyche of this lawman: how and why he remains "on the job" even as the job, along with the rest of civilization, crumbles around him.