A Long December Hardcover – Sep 10 2003
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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.
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
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
For the most part, Mayor has concentrated on local color and a drawing a fine and very accurate portrait of low-life milltown New England. His mayhem has mostly remained realistic -- crooked real estate developers, out-of-control drug dealers, etc.
Harstad, on the other hand, has opted for extra-crunchy police procedure (one volume even has a glossary of 10-codes) and an ever escalating collection of improbable "hell comes to Ioway" scenarios. I won't give away anything, but let's just say this one is very post-9/11. I can't imagine how he'll top himself unless the next novel contains a Martian invasion.
The emphasis on bigger and better catastrophes has sorta moved the series halfway between police procedural and thriller. I still like them just fine, and Harstad remains an excellent writer, but I kinda wish he'd stopped at the "mysterious Satanic cult invades Iowa" level of improbability.
Other than that, the series remains quite consistent, including the fact that each story finds office Houseman barely coming home to sleep, and that his wife is encountered largely through notes she leaves on the fridge. The cast of continuing characters is still here, including "George of the Bureau" and the formidable dispatcher Sally, and Harstad still has a keen and funny eye for the absurdities of organizational politics.
Title: A Long December
Author: Donald Harstad
Publisher: Bantam Books
Carl Housman, deputy sheriff of 750-square-mile Nation County, Iowa, prides himself on keeping his bit of the Heartland safe. It's December and Iowa is steeped in cold weather and waiting for first snow when Houseman's calm is shattered: eighty-plus-year-old Heinman brothers witness an execution style murder. In the midst of the investigation another, what appears to be, unrelated death is reported. Suddenly the county is flooded with a plethora of crime agencies. Careful detective work links the deaths and with the help of his favorite snitch, Houseman helps to uncover a sinister terrorist plot that encompasses the local, newly-turned-kosher, meat packing plant. Duplicate social security numbers, fictitious names and birth records hamper the investigation. Harstad opens "A Long December" with police officials pinned down in a barn in an out-of-the-way area of the county. The author moves the plot forward by swinging between the narratives beginning and the scenes in the barn. Using familiar characters, detail-oriented style and non-stop action, Harstad has penned another best-seller. If you have never picked up a Harstad novel, do so today and you too will become a fan of this gifted writer.
Beverly J Scott author of "Righteous Revenge" and "Ruth Fever." Reviewer for Intriguing Authors and Their Books at [...]
Most recent customer reviews
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