KNOWN DEAD by Donald Harstad


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Now that the loonies of Carl Houseman’s colorful debut, Eleven Days (1998), have been locked up or buried, the portly Nation County, Iowa, deputy sheriff can turn his attention to what looks like a routine surveillance. How routine? Well, less than two hours after he drives out to a field of 106 prized sinsemilla marijuana plants to help a fellow deputy and a state narc wait to see who comes out to tend to the finicky plants, a fusillade of gunshots bursts out, and when the dust clears and the police are free to begin retrieving the 67 shell casings on the scene, one of the lawmen is dead, along with harmless doper Howie Phelps, who’d presumably been taking care of the patch for some Mr. Big. Smart forensics work reveals that Howie wasn’t shot by the cops, but by somebody else—presumably Mr. Big or one of his henchmen. Wondering if Mr. Big might be riverboat casino dealer Johnny Marks, Carl and state cop Hester Gorse, both assigned kept-in-the-dark jobs by the brass-heavy task force on the case, lean on Marks just a bit. But there’s no response, and Carl is just getting back to his usual round of domestic disturbance and endangered-child calls, with a corresponding sense of aimlessness for both Carl and his readers, when a standoff at libertarian Herman Stritch’s heavily armed farm inflicts new wounds on Carl’s weary troops—and suggests that those sinsemilla growers had a lot more irons in the fire than just getting high and unleashing the occasional automatic fire at the law. Hardcore procedural fans will find Carl’s second case authentically dry and realistic; none of the characters seems to have a home life or any interests that would distract them from the job of policing Nation County and fighting jurisdictional skirmishes. Others may complain that the slow-starting suspense proves that there really isn’t much to do in Iowa, even when you’re battling the forces of evil.

Pub Date: July 20th, 1999
ISBN: 0-385-48895-5
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999


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