Eleven Days

Eleven Days

4.6 19
by Donald Harstad
     
 

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In a mesmerizing debut, cop-turned-author Donald Harstad uses real-life events to paint a jarring picture of crime in America's heartland—where two-stoplight towns no longer offer refuge from modern-day brutality.

Life in Maitland, Iowa, is usually predictable, even for a cop. But all that changes the day Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman's dispatcher receives

Overview

In a mesmerizing debut, cop-turned-author Donald Harstad uses real-life events to paint a jarring picture of crime in America's heartland—where two-stoplight towns no longer offer refuge from modern-day brutality.

Life in Maitland, Iowa, is usually predictable, even for a cop. But all that changes the day Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman's dispatcher receives the terrifying 911 call. The day cops find the mutilated bodies at a remote farmhouse. The first of eleven days Carl will never forget.

As hotshot investigators fly in from New York, Carl and his fellow cops use old-fashioned detective work to piece together clues. But to turn suspicions into suspects, Carl must search among his closest friends to find a killer who has shocked and bewildered cops who'd thought they'd seen it all. And before it's over, Carl will be forced into an unrelenting spiral of chaos, coming face-to-face with evil he never dreamed could exist in Maitland...or anywhere else.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A hell of a first novel... Gripping and unsettling."
—Michael Connelly

"With one startling twist after another, this grisly but cunningly sophisticated story is truly frightening."
San Francisco Chronicle

"Downright explosive! The descriptions of the police work rival Wambaugh's best."
Publishers Weekly

"Harstad...advances the scary (and perversely entertaining) notion that people are just as cuckoo in the heartland as they are in the wicked city."
The New York Times Book Review

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The first half of Harstad's good-natured debut may read like Fargo meets Dragnet, but this police procedural turns downright explosive once deputy sheriff Carl Houseman gets to the heart of the strange murders that are tearing apart his small Iowa farming town. The action begins when a 911 call leads Houseman to the site of a ritual murder with multiple victims and no witnesses left in sight; further evidence reveals that an infant may have been sacrificed and that other victims will follow. The first round of police work leads Houseman and his colleagues to the members of a devilish cult, but the serial killer remains at large until Houseman comes to suspect the town pastor and his wife. What follows is an intriguing, suspenseful showdown at a local church. Harstad's deceptively sparse style is full of hard-boiled drollery, even when mundane details threaten to crowd the plot. If the labyrinthine network of Satanic cult members gets a bit too involved, the descriptions of the police work rival Wambaugh's best, and the action scenes maintain a precision that keeps the tension high. After 26 years' police work in northeastern Iowa, Harstad seems poised for a successful second career. (July)
Library Journal
The very best procedural novels are those that follow police personnel through the solving of a crime from its discovery to evidence-gathering to the apprehension of the guilty. The reader knows as much as the police do, and the writer accurately describes investigative techniques and legal process. As a former deputy sheriff from Iowa, Harstad has the procedure down; his storytelling ability also sets him far ahead of other first-time novelists in this genre. Finding four people who appear to have been killed in satanic rituals whips a normally peaceful rural Iowa town into a frenzy. The reader follows the Nation County sheriff's department as it works with state detectives and city police to unearth information about the clandestine affairs of a satanic cult. Deputy Carl Houseman is the epitome of a police officer, and his humanity, intelligence, and ability place him at personal risk as the case races to a heartstopping climax. Fictionalizing a real case that he worked on, Harstad uses unadorned prose to write about the evil that can exist anywhere. Since the violence is described as the police discover it and not while it happens, this can be placed in all fiction collections.--Jo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights-University Heights P.L., OH
Kirkus Reviews
Debut police shocker, inspired by a real event and written by a 26-year veteran of the Clayton County Sheriff's Department in northeastern Iowa. Now retired, Harstad has already written a sequel about highway patrolman and Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman of Nation County PD in Iowa. Houseman, who's been a cop for over 20 years, is on night patrol when a call from a woman comes in about a murder in progress on a farm. When Carl arrives at the Francis Maguire place, he finds that he has to shoot a wounded dog and that the brutally slain Maguire has one hand missing. That same night, more murders occur at a farm eight miles away; they appear tied to the first by Satanic cult mutilations on the bodies of two dead women and a castrated male. One woman has had a breast removed and apparently mixed with the man's gonads in a blender'among even more demonic atrocities. Called to assist the eight-man police department is Special Agent Hester Gorse, who takes charge and, having already worked over a hundred homicides, displays great smarts. Among the mysterious pieces of evidence: The woman who made the initial call to the dispatcher is not among the dead, and the slain Maguire seems to have been killed elsewhere, then dumped back in his own house. And a baby is missing'for sacrifice? Who is the cult leader really attorney Oswald Traer? Carl's nighttime investigation of the second murder site ends up getting him clubbed in the dark—in fact he gets pretty thoroughly worked over before story's end, while also canvassing the town for background on the cult. Eventually, the vengeful paranoid murderer attacks the police station itself. Often deadpan-funny on the incompetence of variousofficers. Harstad may have a hard time later equaling this wild and woolly weirdness.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780553581485
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/28/1999
Series:
Carl Houseman Series, #1
Pages:
368
Sales rank:
309,910
Product dimensions:
4.19(w) x 6.90(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt

Friday, April 19, 1996
23:52 hours

The call came into County Communications from an unidentified source, believed female, possibly under fifty.  No callback number was given and no further contact was noted.

"Sheriff's Department."

"My God, my God, help us here, help us here, please .  .  ."

"Who is calling and what is wrong?" The dispatcher was Sally Wells—no extra chatter at all and very calm.  She was new and part-time, but she learned fast.

"Help us, they're killing everybody!  Help!"

"Where are you and who is calling?"

"Just get help"—indecipherable—"killed Francis, he killed him, help us here!"

"Where are you?"

"The Francis McGuire farm!  Help!"

"Where is the farm?"

"Jesus Christ, help us up"—indecipherable—"didn't mean it.  Oh God, oh God, I don't know, please help.  Please .  .  ."

"Stay on the line!" Sally held fast and with the phone to her ear contacted the available patrol cars.

"Comm, three and five .  .  .  10-33 .  .  .  Possible homicide.  Francis McGuire, I think that's the farm near William's Hollow.  I, uh, think it's in progress, subject on line.  Repeat, this is a 10-33."

"Comm.  Three.  Which side of the hollow, north or south?" I said in as soothing a voice as I could manage.

"Three, stand by," Sally said with relief.  "Ma'am, are you north or south of the Hollow?"

"Jesus God, I don't know.  I don't know!  Help!"

"One moment.  Hold tight.  Three.  Unable to advise."

Five, Mike Conners, came on.  "I think they're on the south side, just before the bridge—about five miles out of Maitland, second or third gravel to the right."

"10-4, five.  Comm, check the caller." I made the turn to take me to the Hollow.

Sally went back to the phone, and it became apparent that the complainant had heard the radio traffic.

"It's the second turn, the second turn, oh God, hurry!"

"She says the second turn, three."

"Tell 'em to hurry!" (Indecipherable) "told me"—indecipherable—"again!  He's just dead. Can't—" With that, the line went dead.  I was only about ten miles from William's Hollow, while Mike was about twenty-six miles out.  Unfortunately I was north, and the directions were from the south.

"Comm, three.  I'm in from the north.  Find out from what location is the second or third gravel, or which gravel after I cross the bridge going south."

"10-4, three."

"And look the farm up in the phone book and call it back."

"I'm doing that," Sally snapped.

While she got better directions from Mike in car five, I continued south on the county paving.  The roads in our part of Iowa are only twenty feet wide and are exceptionally curvy and hilly. They've managed to pack about 1,300-odd miles of them into the county's 750-square-mile border, and with no sign of a spring thaw, I could count on slipping and sliding the whole way.

"Comm, three.  Get 10-78 going." 10-78 was the backup code.  If we had a multiple homicide in progress, two duty officers on highway patrol could only do so much.

"10-4, three.  For your 10-43, I'm getting no answer at the McGuire residence."

Mike was going to have to travel about nine miles on gravel roads that had the consistency of crushed ice before he would even hit the frozen paved ones.  I would beat him to the scene by fifteen minutes or more.  The backup in this case meant the one city officer on duty in Maitland, who was between Mike and me.  I figured another fifteen minutes response on his side.  Anybody else was going to be in bed.  I hoped we didn't need them.

Mike and I were both running with lights at full beam and with sirens blaring, both to alert anyone on the scene that we were on the way and to frighten away any deer on the road in front of us.  Hitting a two-hundred-pound deer at over a hundred miles per hour might not kill you, but you would be wasted at the point of impact.  The manual says to go to a serious crime "as fast as possible, considering the conditions."  Which meanst hat if you wreck the car, it's your butt, buddy, not the county's.  If I went by the book on this one, I'd hit the McGuire farm a week from Thursday.  I made the first nine miles in just under six minutes.

"Comm, three's at the bridge.  Confirm that it will be the third gravel on my left."

"10-4, three.  Third left past the bridge.  Also, three, the hospital received a call like ours and they've dispatched an ambulance."

"10-4, comm.  Be sure to tell the paramedics to wait to come in until we've cleared them."

"10-4, three.  As soon as they're in the unit."

I was going to acknowledge, but I was skidding past the third left turn.  I softly nudged a snowbank, backed up about twenty yards, and made the turn onto the slushy gravel road.

"Comm, how far down this road?"

There are 2,200 farms in the county.  I couldn't possibly know where they all were.

"Three, this is five, second farm on the right, it's down a long lane.  I don't think there's a name on the mailbox, and you have to go over a little hill before you can see the farm from the road. I've been there about, uh, three times .  .  .  think the house is on the right of the drive, bunch of other buildings on the left, and they're pretty close together."

My "10-4" was a little strained.  I was just going over the knoll that cut the view from the roadway.

"Comm, three is 10-23." I was actually still about a hundred yards from the house, but didn't know if I'd have time to say anything from there on in.  In those last hundred yards, I reached down and turned on my walkie-talkie, turned off my siren, unbuckled my seat belt and cleared it from interfering with my personal gear, and unsnapped my holster.  By that time I was skidding to a stop.  I grabbed my flashlight and got out of the car as quickly as I could. The house was on my right.

It was a frame house.  Two stories.  Needed paint pretty bad.  It had a front porch and what appeared to be a back porch and just about every light in the house was on.  No sign of movement inside.

They tell you at the academy that if you'll need it, the only place for your weapon is in your hand.  I drew my revolver, a .44 magnum, and pointed it down and to my right as I approached the house. There was a bluish yard light, similar to a streetlight, illuminating the yard in a roughly circular pattern.  My car was behind me, and without remembering doing it, I had correctly pointed the headlights toward the scene.  The beams cast my shadow on the front porch, distracting my attention from cataloging what I was up against.  My heart leapt every time I picked up my own movement, so I started with the left, at the barn and a couple of outbuildings.  Interior light in the barn.  The others were dark.  No movement.  Neither good nor bad.  If there's nobody there, there's no movement.  If somebody is aiming a shotgun at you from concealment, they probably won't move, either. I put that possibility out of my mind and proceeded toward the house, careful not to slip on the uneven sheets of ice that led to the front porch.

"Twenty-five, comm."

On my walkie-talkie.  It scared the crap out of me, as the speaker was just by my left ear.  I turned it off.  Twenty-five was the Maitland backup officer, Dan Smith, and since I could hear him on my portable, he was probably within two miles of my position.

I made it to the landing of the screened porch and was able to see into the kitchen at about chest level for anyone standing in there.  Nobody was.  I would have to go onto the porch to look into the house.  I didn't really want to do that.  But I did.  I stepped up onto the second of four steps and opened the screen door.  The interior of the porch was a real mess, cluttered to the point that I was not sure I could negotiate a path.  Garbage—empty boxes, broken glass, tools, tires, a chain saw—surrounded a small dog to my left who just sat there staring.  He didn't move or make a sound.  It was the first thing that really worried me.

"Police officer.  Anybody in there?"

No response.  I said it as loudly as I could without yelling. Tried again.  Nothing.  I approached the door, stepping as carefully as I could over the mess.  I could see through the right-hand window, into the kitchen.  Also a wreck, with a table tossed in a corner, its broken leg doubled back underneath.  Several chairs were overturned, the refrigerator was dented and at an angle and the top freezer door was open.  But no people.

I stood to the side of the front door, put my flashlight in my belt, and knocked as hard as I could.

"Police officer!  Is anybody home?"

Again, no answer and then headlights coming down the lane. Twenty-five.  I had to turn my portable back on and use my left hand to key the mike.

"Twenty-five, that you?"

"10-4."

"Okay, I'm on the porch.  Park behind my car, and stay back until I can get in the house."

"10-4."

Dan Smith was an experienced officer.  I felt a lot better.  A few seconds later, I heard him jack a round into his shotgun and I didn't feel quite as confident.  I hoped he kept the safety on.

I navigated across the porch and tried the kitchen door.  It opened about an inch and then hung up.  I pushed it harder and it gave a little with a gentle scraping sound from inside, and then a fairly loud thump, like it was blocked by a hundred-pound sack of potatoes. I pushed a little harder, and it opened about two feet to reveal the open mouth and staring eyes of a man who was obviously dead.  I stepped back.

"Twenty-five, I'm going to have to try another entrance—this one is blocked by a body."

"10-9?"

10-9 means you should repeat your traffic, as the message was not understood.  Or, in this case, believed.

"I've got a body blocking this door.  I'm gonna work my way around the house to the left, here."

"10-4."

"Three?  Five."

"Five, go."

Mike was close.  Even better.

"Wanna wait till I get there?  Only a minute or so."

It was tempting, but I was too exposed to stand still.

"No, just cover the right side of the house when you get here.  I'll be around the left and coming right unless I can find a way in."

I gingerly backed down the steps and went to the left, toward the back of the house, to what appeared to be the back porch.  The dog still hadn't stirred.  Keeping my head below window level, I made my way to find that the back porch was actually an addition to the house with a separate entrance.  The upper half of the door was glass.

The door was locked, but I could see through to the body in the kitchen.  There was something sticking out of his chest or abdomen, but I couldn't make out what it was.  The broken table was obstructing the full view.  Then a noise.

"Three has movement inside!"

No reply.  I heard running footsteps coming up from my right.  Mike ran past me to the other side of the doorwell and put his back against the wall.  We were both very quiet for a moment and heard the sound again.  Like something dragging and then a bump.  We looked at each other and nodded at the same time.

I kicked the door.  It didn't move.  I kicked again and the panel cracked.  The third kick slammed the door back where it hit the interior wall and broke the glass, causing one hell of a racket.  Mike flew by me into the house and stopped just as he hit the entrance to the living room.  I moved behind him, but he was frozen, so I nudged him and stuck my gun around the corner of the door frame and pointed it to where he was looking.

"Jesus."

There was a German shepherd crawling across the floor toward us, dragging his hind legs.  His mouth was bleeding, and he had a bloody wound on his head.  His eyes were glazed.  To the left, the TV was on, but no sound, playing a rerun of Ensign O'Toole.  There were, as they say, signs of a struggle—magazines all over, overturned lamps, one stereo speaker knocked over, a houseplant in a broken pot lying on the floor.

"I don't want to kill him." Mike said what I was thinking.

"We have to."

"Who would leave an innocent animal like that?" Mike mumbled.

"Twenty-five," I said over my portable.  "There will be a shot fired.  We have to shoot a dog."

"A dog?"

"Yeah."

I aimed as carefully as I could, cocked the hammer back, and very gently squeezed the trigger.  We waited a few seconds, our ears ringing, stunned by the shot and the strangeness of the situation.  Then we slowly made our way to the kitchen.

"Twenty-five?"

"Go."

"We're in."

"Copy you in the house?"

"Yeah.  Both of us."

"Okay.  Two's on the way."

"Good." Two was the county's chief deputy.  Although he was in charge of the night shift, he'd had the evening off.  Sally must have called him in when Dan reported the body.  I had my portable on single-channel mode and wasn't able to hear the other radio traffic, but Dan was still by his car and would relay our reports to those on the way.

We looked carefully around the kitchen.  The body by the door was supine, his legs bent at not quite right angles.  The object in his chest was a knife with an ornate handle, made of silver or stainless steel.  His right hand was gone, the stump pointing toward the tilted refrigerator.  But there was very little blood.  He was nude, except for a pair of white socks with yellow toes.  They were half on, half off his feet, and dirty.  I turned to Mike.

"Didn't dispatch say that a female called?"

"Yeah." We'd been at death scenes before, but there was something about this one that had us both spooked.

"Well, let's look."

I hated to go stomping around a crime scene, but we had to see if the woman or the killer was still in the house.  We crossed to the bedroom, the only other room on the ground floor.  Nobody there.  It was a mess, but it looked to me like from being lived in, not from a struggle or burglary.  The lights were on and there was a fairly large painting above the bed, not framed.  It was a star, point down, in a circle, with red eyes near the center.  Not well done.  Primitive.

I looked at Mike.  "Let's do upstairs first, then the basement.  Anybody gets out from the basement, twenty-five has a good chance of picking them up as they come out."

Mike headed for the stairs.  I let him go up about five steps, then followed.  The stairwell was only about thirty-six inches across, and the steps were so narrow that I had to put my feet down sideways. They creaked, adding to our tension, which in my case was at critical mass.  I figured we'd find the caller, but that she would be dead or dying.  I also thought we had a chance of finding the perpetrator, or of him finding us.  On those stairs, he could have got both of us with a pellet gun.

Mike hit the top stair and started moving to his left.  "Okay, Carl, we got doors both sides, all open," he whispered.

"Right." I took the right side of the narrow hallway as I topped the stairs—three small rooms, two left, one right.  No one in any of them.  Each room seemed messier than the one before it. Each one was dusty, dirty, and cold and piled high and deep with boxes of junk.  I was amazed at how much garbage this guy held on to.

Then we carefully moved to the basement, down another set of small, rickety steps.  I went first this time, exposing my body to whoever might be waiting.  The basement was as dilapidated as the rest of the house, but I noticed a small, partitioned corner with a blanket tacked up that separated it from the rest of the mess.  I cautiously pushed the blanket aside with my magnum while Mike covered me.

Nobody there.  But four knives similar to the one stuck in the body upstairs were hanging on the wall.  Next to the knives was a painting of Jesus on the cross that was desecrated with a happy-face sticker placed on his face.  On the other side was an ink drawing of a small heart that appeared anatomically correct with a dagger in it. Below was a small workbench with several burned-down black candles. There was also a calendar and a rather seedy black robe hanging against the sidewall.  We turned to find an inverted cross hung opposite the crucifixion painting.

"What in the hell is going on, Carl?"

"I don't know," is all I could come up with.

Meet the Author

Donald Harstad is a twenty-six-year veteran of the Clayton County Sheriff's Department in northeastern Iowa.  A former deputy sheriff, Harstad lives with his wife, Mary, in Elkader, Iowa.  Eleven Days is his first novel.

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Eleven Days 4.6 out of 5 based on 2 ratings. 19 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book is indepth look at law enforcement. It is well written and the writer knows his stuff. It's not like most books this guy used to be in law enforcement so he's not guessing he knows. I couldn't put this book down. It is just unbelievable. Read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If his first novel is any indication,Harstad has a future as a novelist. As a retired cop,it reads true and procedurly correct. He sets you up and then delivers the punch line. Even tho you suspect the ending, it still grabs you. I cannot wait for his next book. You really get a feel for small town law enforcment and the different way things are done. He takes great pains to be correct in his story lines. I would like to see another novel with the same lead character.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Very nice writing style with just the right amount of humor. Very accurate police procedure and portrayal of police work! I agree with one of the other reviewers that it did tend to drag in places but I'll definitely read his second book. I loved that fact that it was about small town police work... I can only stomach so many stories that take place in big cities! This was a nice change of pace!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Eleven Days is a mind chilling novel that takes place in north eastern iowa, this is great because i live in north central iowa, not too far away. The story is about a small county sheriffs department and how it deals with a recent string of murders. This story will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last chapter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Fast paced. Would recommend.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A fast-paced read that will keep you turning page after page. I recommend this book for anyone who loves a good mystery and will keep you guessing until the very end! I have bought all of Donald Harstad's books and can't wait for his next one. Try reading this one and I bet you too will be reading all nite, just ask my husband, who reminds me more and more of the main character, Carl!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I never read crime fiction, tend to find it boring, but I picked up Eleven Days after meeting the author. I could not put this book down. The entire thing took two sittings to read. The rythm was constant, and Harstad really knows how to add the little things that move you to the next page.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Don't read this book unless you're willing to forgo all of your normal day to day activities until you are finished. You won't want to put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a really good story, well written and moves nicely. I think most people that like police mysteries will really like this one. Enjoy! Kat
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great work. Surprise ending. I would love to read the other books but the process are prohibitive. Thanx for this one though really great.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written by someone who has for sure spent a lot of nights on the street as a real cop. There are too many people involved to keep track of who is what to who so just go with the flo and enjoy his story.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Very good, enjoyable reading. I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a creepy true story. I can't believe all this took place in eleven days. Well done kept me entertained.
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