It's not easy to blend in a dystopic look at the future with a solid police story, but Winters has a lot of talent as the previous book fully demonstrated (See my review of The Last Policeman).
The plot this time round is darker, and though we still think of Hank Palace as a heroic and solid character who seems to be a lone voice of a serene rationality in a world rapidly going to smithreens, in truth he's anything but.
Ben H. Winters can mix-up several genres in a wonderful way in a way I've never seen before. On top of that he doesn’t let the end-of-the-world aspects of the book swamp the central mystery. It has it all: Crime drama, an emotional ride, and an extraordinary imaginative leap into a world on the edge of extinction.
Both "The Last Policeman" and "Countdown City" are speculative novels (the asteroid's presence means they couldn’t be anything else), but they’re less SF than they are crime fiction seen through a speculative lens. Don´t come looking for a hard-SF treatment of planetary collision a la "Lucifer's Hammer" by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. This is something quite different. His treatment of hard-SF subject here is very loose. Fortunatelly that’s not what this book is all about (the same case with "The Last Policeman"). Not even close.
"Countdown City" is at its core a philosophical novel. Its particular aim is to examine why we do the things we do, and how we derive meaning from them, even in the face of certain death, how long are we bound by the promises we make, what is it that we owe each other, and how much our is our word worth. All of them fundamental moral issues concerning us all.
Aren't these the most important questions that Literature can help us understand?
At the end of it I felt it reminded me of "This Is the Way The World Ends" by James Morrow. Perhaps it's less intellectual, but it is much more realistic.
One of the best novels of 2013.
I'm eagerly waiting the next installment.