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A Long December [Hardcover]

Donald Harstad
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 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 unique 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.


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

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.

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." 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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Houseman is finally back July 2 2004
Format:Hardcover
It's been well worth the wait for this latest adventure featuring the food-loving Deputy Carl Houseman, Detective Hester Gorse, Dispatcher Sally, George of the Bureau, Cheif Lamar, and Doc Zimmer. The action starts with the first four pinned down in a barn facing killers with AK47's and thereafter every chapter alternates between this crisis and the developing investigation that began a few days earlier with an execution-style killing on a rural road. This narrative style can be somewhat disruptive, but here the juxtaposition of the two timeframes seems to work well. The two merge later in the story when the action really picks up.
Harstad is very good at taking the reader with him on patrol, and you almost feel you recognise the folk he meets, those tough WWII vets the Heinman brothers 'too old to go easy', the naive trooper, 'super special agent' Milton Hawse, the young but very loyal Hector Gonzalez (whom I'd like to meet again in another story), Special Agent Volont, and of course Big Ears the puppy. We also get to see a bit more of Houseman's long-suffering wife, Sue. I have always felt she was under-utilised as a character, but I know this is an accurate reflection of the life of a police officers' partner when an investigation is running hot, and to push her forward wouldn't aid the plot. The humour is still present, with Houseman being jibed about his diet by Hester and Sally, and Sally's over-preparation for the campout brought a long laugh. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and recommend the whole Houseman series.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Keep 'em coming! June 1 2004
Format:Hardcover
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. I have a hard time putting these books down and have read all the books in the series and am now waiting for the next. It is disconcerting to imagine the types of crimes he describes actually happening there. However he makes them so realistic that it can send shivers down my spine at times. Do I recommend this book and the others by Donald Harstad? You betcha!
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Coffee's Still On, But Beware the Beef! April 11 2004
Format:Hardcover
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. The Nation County gang's all here. The coffee's brewing, and so is the plot: what if terrorists found a way to poison the beef bound for fast food burgers? It's initially disconcerting - flopping and wobbling like a Mad Cow - back and forth from a time certain to some time on an undisclosed date. But perseverance pays off and the reader comes to understand Who's On First, when, and why. The book has the humour and self-effacing good nature of many rural mid-western law enforcement folks. I heartily recommend it. As they say in the commercials: It's beefy, juicy, big and bouncy! Reviewed by TundraVision, Amazon Reviewer.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Trouble comes to Nation County, Iowa. Dec 6 2003
Format:Hardcover
Carl Houseman is the deputy sheriff of Nation County, Iowa, and the laconic narrator of Donald Harstad's new thriller, "A Long December." Carl is also the department's senior investigator, and it is his job to figure out who shot an unidentified male, execution style, in a remote area called Frog Hollow. Was this death related to a drug deal gone sour? Working along with Iowa DCI agent Hester Gorse, Houseman finds out that this crime is just the tip of a very dangerous iceberg that may have national implications.
The main characters in "A Long December" are a likable bunch, and they have a matter-of-fact and businesslike attitude towards danger. Their dry humor and amiable camaraderie make them very easy to take. It is also refreshing to read a crime thriller that takes places in the nation's heartland rather than in a major metropolitan area.
One irritating aspect of this book, however, is the repeated shifting back and forth in time between a gun battle and the events that led up to the shootout. This dizzying flashback device is a needless annoyance that serves no dramatic purpose. Harstad would have done better in this case to have Houseman tell his story in a more linear manner.
Still, "A Long December" has much to recommend it. It raises some timely themes about our dangerous world and the men and women who risk their lives to defend us. The plot is complex and engrossing and the author provides some fascinating information about how investigations are conducted. It may not be flashy or glitzy, but "A Long December" gets the job done.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great story Nov. 29 2003
Format:Hardcover
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 the big cities. Mr. Harstad has created several interesting characters and continues to develop them in each story. I especially like the fact that the male and female officers can work together in these stories without having a romantic attraction. It is just about cops doing their job and in Nation county they do it well.
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