The protagonist of Donald Harstad's novel, Carl Houseman, is a deputy sheriff working the night shift in the small town of Maitland, Iowa. He is sent to the scene of a crime after a 911 call comes in. At the scene, he finds a dead man but the woman who made the call is not found. By the next morning, a second crime scene has been found with three more bodies, and the two crimes seem to be related. The small department, with the help of state investigative agencies, works for the next eleven days to solve the crime.
It is made clear from the beginning that murder doesn't occur that often in this rural area.
This is what Publisher's Weekly had to say:
The first half of Harstad's good-natured debut may read like Fargo meets Dragnet, but this police procedural turns downright explosive once deputy sheriff Carl Houseman gets to the heart of the strange murders that are tearing apart his small Iowa farming town.The comparison to Dragnet is apt; the first person narrative by Carl is a very matter-of-fact, no frills delivery. There are some funny moments. I would compare it to the humor of Reginald Hill. You laugh because you sympathize or have been there, but the situation itself is not laugh out loud funny.
The characterization is very good. Although we don't get to know each person working on the case, the descriptions and interactions make them feel like real people with real foibles and biases. This may be due to Harstad's background. He was a policeman in the Clayton County Sheriff's Department in northeastern Iowa for many years and draws on his own experiences.
I also liked that there were interesting female characters. The protagonist is male, but very open-minded. Many of the men he works with have difficulty working with women, and express it. There is a female dispatcher who takes the initial call on the crime in progress, and ends up working with the police throughout the story. State special investigator Hester Gorse is called in to work with the local force; she is professional and competent and she has no problem dealing with any harassment.
Just a warning: There are some extremely mutilated bodies and gruesome descriptions of them. This was not overdone, in my opinion. The crimes are possibly linked to Satanism and the subject matter is at times distasteful.
At the publisher's site, there is a link to an excerpt from the beginning of the novel.
Please see these reviews:
- Keishon has an in-depth review at Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog. (Thanks to Keishon for recommending this book to me.)
- Yvette at In So Many Words includes this book in her list of 5 Best Books Based On A True Story.
- A brief review by Val McDermid at Tangled Web UK.
Publisher: Bantam, 1999; originally pub. in hardback by Doubleday, 1998
Length: 337 pages
Format: mass market paperback
Series: Carl Houseman
Setting: Iowa, USA
Genre: Mystery, Police Procedural