Plenty of laughs, skewed violence, and marvelous takes on how weird Iowa winters can be—in the third, and best, procedural featuring easygoing Nation County Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman (Known Dead, 1999, etc.), from a former Iowa deputy sheriff who knows the territory inside out.
While he’s digging stuttering small-town crook Fred “Goober” Grothler out of the snow, Houseman hears Goober confess to having driven the getaway car for his no-good cousins. Seems Dirk and Royce Colson have been robbing farmhouses while their owners are away playing pinochle in sunny Florida. But the boys have been missing for two days since they broke into Cletus Borglan’s place. Poking around the snowbound farmhouse, Houseman finds evidence of a break-in and the frozen bodies of the Colson cousins out in the shed, both sporting bullet holes in their heads. When an incompetent investigator tries to pin the crime on Fred, Houseman does more checking and ends up busting two mysterious FBI agents. The cranky, blustering Borglan rushes home from Florida but loses his lunch when Houseman drags him in for questioning. After a lunatic sniper shoots up the front of the sheriff’s office, Borglan confesses that he’s been consorting with Jacob Henry Nieuhauser, a.k.a Gabriel, a crazed ex-Army colonel militia type who had been living secretly in Borghlan’s house and who killed the Colsons. Gabriel needs money to buy some nasty new weapons, and he plans to steal it by hijacking a riverboat casino where state cop Hester Gorse, Houseman’s investigative partner in the previous books, just happens to be on shift.
After so much loopy plotting and Heartland folks, the slam-bang militia madness comes on a bit too furious. Harstad’s strength is in the wry and dry details of a cop’s life, and in his unbending compassion for deceptively plain people who cast long shadows in the subzero snow.