Known Dead by Donald Harstad | Paperback | Barnes & Noble
Known Dead

Known Dead

3.9 9
by Donald Harstad

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In the American heartland, someone is killing cops.

The ambush exploded in an Iowa marijuana field. The weapons were high caliber. The pot was high grade. And the reporters said afterward: "We have two known dead...."

Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman knew the dead all right: One was a small-time doper, the other a good cop. But Houseman doesn't


In the American heartland, someone is killing cops.

The ambush exploded in an Iowa marijuana field. The weapons were high caliber. The pot was high grade. And the reporters said afterward: "We have two known dead...."

Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman knew the dead all right: One was a small-time doper, the other a good cop. But Houseman doesn't know why they died, or who cut them down in a blaze of automatic rifle fire. Now, as the Feds descend on Nation County, Houseman and his fellow cops are suddenly walking point—searching for answers amidst the violence, treachery, and evil in their own backyard....

Donald Harstad's Eleven Days was called "a hell of a first novel" by Michael Connelly and "truly frightening" by the San Francisco Chronicle. In his electrifying new novel Harstad captures with nerve-shattering power an Iowa police department's harrowing search through a killing storm—to know the truth about the dead and the living alike....

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Harstad punches all the paranoia buttons."
The New York Times Book Review

"Instantly propels him into the top ranks of mystery writers."

"A complicated little conundrum of a plot that keeps Houseman, the Feds, and the reader guessing all the way through....An author who knows his territory."
The New York Times

"Hardcore procedural fans will find Carl's second case authentically...realistic."
Kirkus Reviews

"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

Don't miss Donald Harstad's mesmerizing debut Eleven Days:
"A hell of a first novel...Gripping and unsettling."
—Michael Connelly

And coming soon in hardcover from Doubleday:
The Big Thaw
Former sheriff Donald Harstad delivers Known Dead, his second small-town crime yarn featuring Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman. When a drug bust goes bad, Houseman finds himself in the middle of savage cross fire that has already claimed two lives. To make matters worse, he has no clue where the guns are pointed -- or who is pulling the triggers.
Richard Bernstein
...[An] entertaining mystery....[with] a complicated little conundrum of a plot that keeps...the reader guessing all the way through....Mr. Harstad's message seems to be that evil is too great for us ever to shed an all-clarifying light on its activities.....sophisticated, funny and diverting...
The New York Times
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
There's a solid core of experience and acquired wisdom in this second mystery (after the well-received Eleven Days) from Harstad, a 26-year veteran of the Clayton County Sheriff's Department in northeastern Iowa. There are also some shortcomings, most notably narrative padding and a tendency toward cuteness. Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman is a sharp, likable 50-year-old Iowan with weight and blood-pressure problems (which get mentioned too often), and strong opinions on every aspect of policing--including a hatred for the special prayer called "The Lord Is My Shepherd, He Rides in My Patrol Car" that is recited at cop funerals. Readers first encounter the prayer at the services for an Iowa narcotics agent killed on Houseman's Nation County turf while staking out a marijuana patch in a state park. Blasts of gunfire from mysterious shooters take out the agent and a smalltime dealer. While various federal and state agencies wrestle for control of the case and Harstad overwhelms readers with reams of ballistic evidence, two more Nation County cops are shot down at the farm of a local extremist with links to a large militant group. Between seemingly endless sessions of drinking coffee--described sip-by-sip--and eating everything from doughnuts to fat-free wieners, Houseman tries to connect the shootings and keep some of the glory for his own office, even as the author provides welcome information on how surveillance helicopters can tell the good guys from the bad guys in the dark (the good guys wear little chemical badges that give off heat). Overall, the novel's a good one and Houseman's an appealing hero, but both book and cop carry excess fat. (July) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Working as back-up in a routine drug bust, Nation County Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman is first on the scene when a policeman is killed along with a man who was tending illegal marijuana plants. The guns used in the shooting are high-tech military weapons, and soon the place is swarming with federal agents. There are so few leads that all Houseman and his Iowa state counterpart, Hester Gorse, know is that the crime scene looked like a typical ambush scenario and that the shooters were wearing camouflage. Then the sheriff and a deputy go out to Herman Stritch's farm to serve a court order; another officer is killed, and the family barricades itself in the farmhouse, shooting at anything that moves. Dealing with the realities of middle America's militia groups and the interaction of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, Harstad has written a tightly woven police procedural even better than his first, Eleven Days (LJ 6/15/98). A natural storyteller, Harstad uses his experiences as a longtime deputy sheriff to make his novel come alive. This is a winner and should be in every fiction collection.--Jo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights-University Heights P.L. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Marilyn Stasio
If Donald Harstad is trying to shoo the tourists away from Iowa, he's doing a good job of it....[He] punches all the paranoia buttons about right-wing militia outfits lurking in the cornfields.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
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 policingNation 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.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Carl Houseman Series, #2
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
4.00(w) x 7.00(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt

My name is Carl Houseman. I'm a deputy sheriff in Nation County, Iowa. I'm also the department's senior investigator, and senior officer, to boot. I'm getting a little sensitive about senior and elder being interchangeable terms. I turned fifty, recently. It's gotten to the point that people ask me whether AARP sells cut-rate ammunition to older cops. Anyway, I'd like to tell you about the killings we had in our county in the summer of '96, and the subsequent investigation that stood the whole state on its ear. This is my version of what happened. It's the right one.

It all started for me on June 19, 1996, about 1500 hours. I had pretty much assigned myself as pickup car for a team of two officers who were conducting surveillance on a cultivated marijuana patch we'd located in Basil State Park. Basil's a large park, about twenty-five square miles, in steep hills, and just about completely covered with thick woods.

At 0458, Special Agent Bill Kellerman, Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement, and our Deputy Ken Johansen had been inserted into the park, being dropped off by one of the night cars. The patch itself was located some distance from the road, in a little valley. I'd never been there, but I knew the general location. I'd done surveillance on patches in the past, and was very glad not to have to do this one. It was hot, it was dull, andit was seldom successful. Bill and Ken were good officers, although they both had only a couple of years dope experience, and were pretty anxious to bust this patch. The cultivated area had been observed during a fly-over by a Huey helicopter provided by the Iowa National Guard, under a marijuana eradication program. Ken had been in the chopper when they first discovered the patch wedged in a deep valley, and reported the event to Bill, the Iowa Division of Narcotics Enforcement agent assigned to work undercover in the area. They'd gone in, discovered over a hundred plants, and decided to go for the bust.

The whole purpose of the exercise was to lie in wait and catch the owner of the patch as he or she came into the area to water and tend the plants. We had no idea who that was, though there was some speculation.

I'd picked a hilltop location for my car, about a mile and a half from the two officers in the patch. I couldn't see them, but I could see a large chunk of the park, and the height of my location would ensure that I could receive their walkie-talkie transmissions in the hilly terrain. I'd gone up a long farm lane to an abandoned barn and parked in the bit of shade the barn offered. It was a slow day, and I had gotten into position early. Been there for over an hour, in fact. Quality time. It was ninety-four degrees, and the humidity was about 95 percent. I'd turned off the engine, and air conditioner, so I would make less noise, and sat there trying to use thread to rig a spar for a ship model I was building. I'd given up smoking, and was wishing I hadn't. I had started sweating, and was wishing I hadn't too. I'd opened one of four cans of soda pop I'd brought with me, in a small ice-filled cooler. One for each of us when I picked them up. And a spare for now. I had the driver's door propped open, hoping for a little air. Not even a hint of a breeze. And they shouldn't be ready for pickup for a good half hour yet. I started the first knot in the thread that attached the stuns'l boom to the spar.

I heard a faint pop, then another. Then a whole lot of popping noises, almost like an old lawn mower. I put down the spar, and looked over toward the valley where the patch was. It was very quiet. The slight haze caused the distant features to dance. I checked both sides of the thin ribbon of graveled road that wound toward the pickup point, but I couldn't pin down where the sounds had come from. There were lots of farms surrounding the park, and I thought it was probably a tractor. I was just starting to pick up my spar, when the popping began again. A lot of it. I dropped the spar, and got out and stood alongside my car. I couldn't see anything out of the ordinary. It got very quiet again.

"MAITLAND, FOUR!" my car radio blared, and nearly scared me to death.

No answer. Dispatch probably hadn't heard him, down in his tree-filled hole. Four was the call sign of Johansen. He was transmitting on the AID channel, as instructed. He sounded out of breath and excited. Did they have the suspect? I began to suspect that the popping sound had been a four-wheeler.

I picked up my mike and went on a different channel from Four. "Maitland, Three," I said, "Four has traffic on AID."

"Unable to copy him, Three," came the soft, feminine reply.

I was starting my engine and closing the door. I figured they'd need transport now, for sure.


He sure sounded excited. I headed the car down the rutted lane as fast as I could. Maybe the suspect had fled, and would be heading toward a vehicle parked somewhere on the gravel road that snaked through the base of the hills.

"He's got traffic, Maitland," I said. He couldn't hear me on the INFO channel, which was fine, as I didn't want to interfere with his talking to the base station on the AID channel.

She heard him on his third attempt.

"Go ahead, Four . . ."


A brief pause.

"Four," she said, pretty calmly, "I copy ten-thirty-three, ten-thirty-two, one officer down?"


"Maitland . . . all cars . . . ten-thirty-three, Basil State Park, ten-thirty-two, officer down, possible automatic weapons . . ."

I punched up AID as I slid out of the farm lane onto the gravel. Shot? 688 shot?

"FOUR, THREE'S ON THE WAY, ABOUT A MILE OUT!" I hit the siren and lights on my unmarked car, and floored it, while trying to fasten my seat belt. The siren was to let anybody who was thinking about doing any more harm know help was on the way. Just maybe they'd back off. The little red light on the dash was for insurance purposes, in case I hit anybody. So was the belt.

I heard a garbled transmission, with the word Three in it, from Johansen. The damned hills were giving me problems as I came down into the valley.

Shot? Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.

What People are saying about this

Michael Connelly
Underscores the simple truth that the threat of everywhere even the farmlands of Iowa.
— (Michael Connelly, bestselling author of Void Moon)

Meet the Author

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

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