Sunday, May 4, 2014

Eleven Days: Donald Harstad

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:

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


Anonymous said...

Tracy - I like the setting for this one. It seems to 'fit.' And it's funny you would mention Dragnet, because I was thinking the same thing when I read the beginning of your post. And Carl Houseman sounds like an appealing protagonist. Thanks for the review.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Tracy, three reviews, including yours, from my blogger friends ought to take me in the direction of this debut novel. I'll also check out Keishon's and Yvette's entries.

TracyK said...

Yes, Margot, Carl Houseman is very appealing. The delivery was, of course, not nearly as dry as dragnet, but very straightforward, not dressed up. I was very happy to have found this series.

TracyK said...

Prashant, with recommendations from the three of us, how can you miss. I am sure you would like this book. Yvette also listed this book on her list of 101 favorite mysteries, which is high praise.

col2910 said...

I honestly think I have read this twice and can recall elements of the plot, but not the ending which is weird because I reckon I enjoyed it both times. I kept it so will have to give it a third tryout someday. Will you read more by the author (time permitting)?

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Hmmm, noit surely I like the sound of the gore but lkike the idea of a relaistc pproach ... thanks TracyK

RebeccaK said...

Great review: I've added it to my list! I need good US recommendations to cover a book from each state, you know.

TracyK said...

I thought that you had read this. It does seem like a book that can be re-read. Yes, I purchased the 2nd book as soon as I finished this one. Hope I can find time to read it in the next few months.

TracyK said...

The descriptions were pretty bad (i.e., realistic), Sergio. But they were not overdone. I liked the book a lot. Plan to read more of them.

TracyK said...

This is a great one for Iowa, Rebecca. I hope you do try it.

Clothes In Books said...

I read this ages ago - in 2006 according to my notes - and liked it very much for all the reasons you mention. I always thought I would read something else by him, but have never got round to it. Perhaps your review will give me a push!

TracyK said...

He is definitely an author I want to read more of, Moira. The style is different enough to not be the same old police procedural.

w said...

Thanks for the link Tracy am so glad you enjoyed the writing. I agree that the topic is distasteful, etc but I found the writing really compelling. I haven't read any of his others yet but plan to read one more this year sometime.

TracyK said...

Keishon, your review is great. I think I got this book on your say so without even reading your review, and I liked it very much. I hope to read the 2nd book by the end of the year.