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Mystery Guild Book Club


Double Day Book Club

Book of the Month Club 2

A Long December – published October 7, 2003

The people of Nation County, Iowa-a heartland town straight out of a Coen Brothers movie or a John Cougar Mellencamp song-practice a A Long Decemberunique brand of American stoicism. You betcha. And they rely upon their public servants to shield them from the horrors of the outside world. Carl Houseman, deputy sheriff of the 750-square-mile county, dedicates his life to keeping his citizenry so secure that you can leave the door unlocked at home and walk his streets with a big hello and a smile to every stranger. On Houseman’s watch, the mounting terrors of the new world order stay far away.

But December 2001 could change all of that. Outsiders are everywhere. The meat plant is now kosher and there are more Jewish fellows per capita than any other place in the country. Hispanic and other foreign workers, with dubious immigration papers, have taken jobs from the locals. Eighteen other languages are now spoken within the tiny region, and Carl and company can’t speak a single one.

Then the eighty-odd-year-old Heinman brothers’ call comes in from their farm down in Frog Hollow. They’ve witnessed an execution-style killing not one hundred yards from their pig feeders. The victim’s awful dead and half his head’s been blown off. The boys haven’t seen nothing like it since Normandy. When Carl gets to the scene, he believes them.

What follows is a masterful police procedural thriller-think Joe Wambaugh crossed with Fargo-written with a singular and authentic voice that has electrified readers around the world.

From Booklist

Harstad is at the top of his game in this captivating fifth case for rural Iowa deputy sheriff Carl Houseman. It all begins when Carl and state agent Hester Gorse get a call to come out to the Heinmen boys’ farm, where they find “one dead, and I mean really dead, dude lying in the roadway.”  This is a thoroughly believable and compelling police procedural from the American heartland’s answer to Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin and Henning Mankell.

David Wright
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Code 61 – published April 16, 2002

Investigating the apparent suicide of a colleague’s niece, Iowa Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman is startled to uncover a group that transforms the dark fantasies of vampire legend into grisly reality: they ritualistically drink small amounts of one another’s blood. As Carl is drawn deeper into this unnerving world, it becomes clear that the dead woman may have been the victim of a twenty-first-century Dracula.

The prime suspect, Dan Peale, is a sinister presence within the group–a man some say drinks blood and never, ever dies. It’s an outlandish, heinous theory, but then suspicions are bolstered by rumors of a card-carrying vampire hunter who is also pursuing Peale. All too soon, Houseman finds himself scrambling to track a vampire–before he kills again.

From Publishers Weekly

Code 61

A call to a Peeping Tom incident starts Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman on his strangest case yet in this nicely low-key but compelling page-turner. True, the Iowa lawman encountered Satanists in his debut, Eleven Days (1998), but the perp described hanging in thin air outside the upper story window looks like Bela Lugosi. Series regulars such as investigator Hester Gorse and Old Knockle do their turns, with officer Sally Wells copping the funniest moments why not bring some garlic on the stake-out, just in case? The suspect is supposed to be a vampire. Harstad has crafted another engrossing entry in one of the best new police procedural series.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Carl Houseman, primary detective for the Nation County Sheriff’s Department, is called out to the apparent suicide of his boss’s niece. After a careful crime scene investigation and a thorough autopsy, it is clear that Edie Younger could not have cut her own throat. This fourth book in the series by Harstad, a former deputy sheriff with 26 years of experience, is packed with suspense, heart-stopping action, and haunting scenes. For all fiction collections.

Jo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights-Univ. P.L., Ohio
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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The Big Thaw – published May 01, 2001

From Publishers WeeklyThe Big Thaw

The pair of frozen corpses were found under a tarp in the machine shed of an empty farmhouse. Two males — brothers — both killed by bullets from a Russian automatic fired at close range. The cops have a suspect: a man Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman busted five years earlier and the county’s lead suspect in a series of recent robberies.

Houseman knows they have the wrong guy. He also knows they’ve got something bigger than a burglary gone bad … especially when the FBI starts showing up in Maitland. The brutal double homicide is just the tip of the iceberg in a case where a killer’s trail keeps disappearing like footprints in freshly fallen snow, and where one bad break can send a good cop into a deep freeze.

Anthony Award nominee Harstad (Eleven Days and Known Dead) makes a third foray to the town of Nation County, Iowa, in this compelling police procedural.

(Aug.) Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

In the last several years, the police procedural, once dominated by Americans, has seen a number of good British authors take over the field. Now America has come back with Harstad, a former deputy sheriff and a truly great storyteller. In this third novel about Nation County, IA, Carl Houseman is joined once again by Hester Gorse, a state detective, and Special Agent George Pollard of the FBI to solve the murders of two burglars on a farm whose owner is vacationing in Florida. The owner has militia leanings and contacts with people who are very dangerous. Harstad sets up the story beautifully, with intense suspense, an intriguing investigation that has all the authentic trappings, and a believable cast of police personnel. He gets better and better with each book. For every library collecting in this genre.

DJo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights-University Heights P.L., OH
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

It’s fascinating to follow Harstad’s hero-narrator, Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman of Nation County, Iowa, through a crime scene. Houseman proceeds with absolute confidence, making the slightest depression in the carpeting intriguing, treating the reader to insights gleaned from physical evidence that only a firsthand authority can render. That authority is Harstad himself, who spent 26 years as a deputy sheriff in northeastern Iowa before turning to crime fiction.  Harstad is one of the most reliable and riveting police-procedural writers in the business.

Connie FletcherCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Known Dead – published May 28, 2000

1999   Doubleday/ Bantam/ 4th Estate

1999 Doubleday/ Bantam/ 4th Estate

In the American heartland, someone is killing cops.

The ambush exploded in an Iowa marijuana field. The weapons were high caliber. The pot was high grade. And the reporters said afterward: “We have two known dead….”

Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman knew the dead all right: One was a small-time doper, the other a good cop. But Houseman doesn’t know why they died, or who cut them down in a blaze of automatic rifle fire. Now, as the Feds descend on Nation County, Houseman and his fellow cops are suddenly walking point—searching for answers amidst the violence, treachery, and evil in their own backyard….

From Publishers Weekly

Working as back-up in a routine drug bust, Nation County Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman is first on the scene when a policeman is killed along with a man who was tending illegal marijuana plants. The guns used in the shooting are high-tech military weapons, and soon the place is swarming with federal agents.  Dealing with the realities of middle America’s militia groups and the interaction of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, Harstad has written a tightly woven police procedural even better than his first, Eleven Days (LJ 6/15/98). A natural storyteller, Harstad uses his experiences as a longtime deputy sheriff to make his novel come alive. This is a winner and should be in every fiction collection.

AJo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights-University Heights P.L.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Harstad’s second novel (after the excellent Eleven Days, ), also starring Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman of Nation County, Iowa, is as well written and challenging as its predecessor. Harstad, a former Iowa deputy sheriff, is apparently not interested in writing flashy, cutting-edge mysteries, and that’s good: his down-to-earth style and knowledge of investigative technique make his novels more realistic–and therefore more compelling–than many of his competitors’. Written (like Ed McBain’s rather more famous police procedurals) with a delightful sense of humor, and displaying a deft handling of pace and character that would make other, more well known writers jealous, this fine novel not only fulfills the promise of Harstad’s debut but instantly propels him into the top ranks of mystery writers. Sure to be much in demand.

David Pitt

From Kirkus Reviews

Hardcore procedural fans will find Carl’s second case authentically dry and realistic; none of the characters seems to have a home life or any interests that would distract them from the job of policing Nation County and fighting jurisdictional skirmishes. Others may complain that the slow-starting suspense proves that there really isn’t much to do in Iowa, even when you’re battling the forces of evil.

Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Eleven Days – published June 15,1998


Eleven Days 1998 Doubleday/ Bantam/ 4th Estate

In a mesmerizing debut, cop-turned-author Donald Harstad uses real-life events to paint a jarring picture of crime in America’s heartland–where two-stoplight towns no longer offer refuge from modern-day brutality.

Life in Maitland, Iowa, is usually predictable, even for a cop. But all that changes the day Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman’s dispatcher receives the terrifying 911 call. The day cops find the mutilated bodies at a remote farmhouse. The first of eleven days Carl will never forget.

As hotshot investigators fly in from New York, Carl and his fellow cops use old-fashioned detective work to piece together clues. But to turn suspicions into suspects, Carl must search among his closest friends to find a killer who has shocked and bewildered cops who’d thought they’d seen it all. And before it’s over, Carl will be forced into an unrelenting spiral of chaos, coming face-to-face with evil he never dreamed could exist in Maitland…or anywhere else.

“A hell of a first novel… Gripping and unsettling.”
–Michael Connelly

“With one startling twist after another, this grisly but cunningly sophisticated story is truly frightening.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Downright explosive! The descriptions of the police work rival Wambaugh’s best.”
Publishers Weekly

“Harstad…advances the scary (and perversely entertaining) notion that people are just as cuckoo in the heartland as they are in the wicked city.”
The New York Times Book Review

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