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Ben H. Winters Pens Highly Imaginative "Countdown City"

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July 17, 2013
Washington University graduate Ben H. Winters is difficult to classify. Is he a children's author, a lyricist, a journalist, a poet, a horror novelist, or a satirist? His work includes all of the above and suggests a highly imaginative and funny mind with a taste for the absurd and gruesome.

Winters is the author of the bestselling Jane Austen parody "Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters." He also reprised a Leo Tolstoy classic in "Android Karenina."

His two mysteries for young readers, "The Secret Life of Ms. Finkleman" and "The Mystery of the Missing Everything," are set in the Mary Todd Lincoln Middle School. In 2011 Winters published "Bedbugs," an adult horror novel about a young family in New York fighting what may or may not be a bedbug infestation.

Winters has written musical theater for adults and children. As an undergraduate in St. Louis, he performed with the improvisational comedy group, Mama's Pot Roast, and wrote for the student newspaper. Winters teaches creative writing to middle-school children and has a forthcoming book of scary poems for young readers titled "Literally Disturbed: Tales to Keep You Up at Night."

Winters' latest book, "Countdown City," is the second in "The Last Policeman" trilogy, and it showcases his many talents. The series features Henry Palace, a former policeman in Concord, N.H.

Palace has been dismissed from the police force as part of the general upheaval caused by impending disaster. A large asteroid is on course to strike Earth in 77 days. Although the precise predictions for levels of death and destruction vary, most people expect the worst.

Some are stockpiling weapons and food, others have joined wandering religious groups, and many have simply left their lives to go skydiving, see the world, take drugs, and do anything but wait at home for the end. At least half of the homes stand empty with shattered windows. There is no electricity, and rumors abound that the water will be shut off soon.

Although he has no authority, Palace is investigating a missing persons case. His childhood babysitter has asked for help finding her husband who has disappeared. Because a good percentage of the population could be described as missing, people repeatedly ask Palace why he is doing this. Why is he searching for someone who probably doesn't want to be found? What will he do if he finds him? What good can come of it when all is doomed?

Palace is motivated by his desire to keep his promises. As he straps on his bike helmet, jots in his notebook, and follows leads, he astonishes people with his determination in the face of catastrophe.

Winters executes a clever twist on the renegade cop theme with Henry Palace. Instead of a policeman who needs to bend the rules to do his job, Palace is a policeman steadfastly adhering to order long after society has embraced chaos.

"Countdown City" is both fast-paced and thoughtful. Winters has created a likable and inspiring hero in Henry Palace. Readers will eagerly await the next installment in "The Last Policeman" series.

Ben H. Winters will discuss and sign "Countdown City" on Wednesday, July 24, 7 p.m., at Left Bank Books, 399 N. Euclid Ave. Call 367-6731 for more information.

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