Detective as Melancholic in The Last Policeman

“The Detective as Melancholic: Maintaining Law and Order on the Eve of Apocalypse in The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters”

For Freud, the enigmatic quality of melancholia was a particularly challenging puzzle because its symptoms are so similar to those of mourning even though they move in essentially different directions. Both mourning and melancholia concern the painful loss of an object; however, where mourning involves slowly pulling away from something that was once vital but is now dead, melancholia instead circulates around a lost object that can never be fully identified. For this reason, Freud claims the object of melancholy is not conscious. In The Last Policeman (2012), Ben H. Winters posits his title character, homicide investigator Hank Palace as just such a case: the detective as melancholic. Facing the catastrophic end of the world, with a huge asteroid hurtling toward the earth with total planetary destruction expected in just six months, Detective Palace alone continues to take his job as a policeman seriously. Despite rampant chaos and global self-destructive behavior, Palace refuses to dismiss a suspicious death as just another suicide, insisting against all common sense that law and order must still be maintained even – and perhaps especially – at the edge of the abyss.

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