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A bungling group of terrorists try to poison the beef shipped from an Iowa meat plant in the fifth installment of Harstad's Carl Houseman series of police procedurals (Code Sixty-One, etc.). Though buoyed by its engagingly homespun first-person narration and keen sense of place, the novel suffers from an idling plot that is sometimes frustratingly underdeveloped. Houseman, second in command of the Nation County Sheriff's Department, is investigating an execution-style killing in a remote corner of his jurisdiction. The victim is Latino, one of hundreds of recent immigrants to descend on Nation County who have irked the natives by taking local jobs and injecting a form of multiculturalism that doesn't go over well in rural Iowa. Houseman, along with sidekick state agent Hester Gorse, tie the victim and the killer to the new kosher meat plant in neighboring Battenberg, which is now reeling from the discovery that several sides of beef have been poisoned with the toxic substance ricin. Fortunately, there's been only one death so far-that of the inept terrorist who apparently sprayed the poison on himself as well as the beef. Yet Houseman and others suspect the worst: that Islamic fundamentalists have invaded the heartland with a new strategy to kill Jews. Harstad, a 26-year veteran of Iowa law enforcement, steers his plot to a fine shoot-'em-up ending, yet much of this procedural gets bogged down in procedures that are both predictable and fail to advance the action. Worse, Harstad never fully explains who the terrorists are nor identifies their ultimate goal. Nevertheless, his laid-back Midwestern voice and descriptive skills carry the story and prove again that he has the tools to carve a niche of his own in crime fiction.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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." Another even deader dude leads the pair to a crime with international implications, involving a kosher meat-packing plant that employs enough illegal aliens to make the small town of Battenberg a cultural melting pot, with the nation's highest per capita population of rabbis. A wealth of authentic investigative detail and a diverse cast are winningly conveyed through Houseman's gently sardonic tone, pragmatic outlook, and sheer, boyish enthusiasm for his work. Harstad keeps the tension high by punctuating the fine-grained, methodical investigation with short scenes from the explosive final showdown at a derelict farm. 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
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I grew up in 'Nation County, Iowa' and although he gives each of the towns in the county a fictional name it is easy to recognize them all. Read morePublished on June 1 2004 by Emily Marsh
Former Iowa Deputy Sheriff Donald Harstad has written another fine thriller/mystery/police procedural. You need not have read the previous adventures, but it helps. Read morePublished on April 11 2004 by TundraBee
I have read all of the books in this series and they seem to just get better. It is refreshing to read a story set in the midwest where things are a little more laid back than in... Read morePublished on Nov. 29 2003 by Pangloss
Harstad just keeps getting better and better. "A Long December" is a gripping story with explosive action that will shakes the dust off your rafters! Read morePublished on Oct. 13 2003 by Turkeystone