With 26 years as an Iowa police officer behind him, the retired Harstad handles his procedurals with absolute authority and his rural Nation County, Iowa, characters with a dry wittiness.
Here, in his fifth Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman thriller (Code Sixty-One, 2002), one can spot what looks like an editorial hand at work in the opening fifty pages when a very long, slow, but amusing crime scene investigation, aflood with ritual detail, is livened up with interchapters woven from the much later big shootout with a wild gang of terrorists. Carl (55, six foot three, 280 pounds) and his DCI buddy Hester Gorse are called to investigate an execution-style homicide near a deep-country farm: the victim has been shotgunned from behind, with most of his head between the ears scooped out and now fanning the gravel. There’s a lot to discuss about this crime scene, and as County Medical Examiner Henry Zimmer and the ambulance crew and Carl’s surly boss Lamar arrive, it’s old home week for Harstad fans. Is the crime drug-related? (The county, with its big new kosher meat-processing plant and influx of immigrants, now floats 18 different European tongues and weird-sounding varieties of Spanish.) The dead man turns out to be a plant worker but not the Mexican he pretended to be; he was Colombian, dealt in meth, and had some very, very bad friends. The day he dies the plant closes for a few days because its many illegal alien workers fear deportation. Soon a second plant worker dies of ricin poisoning: Were those Zionist pigs Hester and Carl poisoned as well? The two end up trapped in a barn surrounded by terrorists lobbing grenades at them. Meanwhile, red tape (this is actually a federal case) imperils their safety amid the explosions.
Top-drawer Harstad, full of really cool dialogue.