The Barnes & Noble Review
Like its predecessors, the fifth novel in Harstad's Carl Houseman series is an intriguing story filled with folksy, easygoing narration, set in the Iowa heartland. Tensions are rising in Nation County, as immigrants pour into the small Iowa district, taking jobs and changing the cultural tableau of the area. When deputy sheriff Carl Houseman and state agent Hester Gorse investigate the execution-style murder of an unidentified man, clues lead to a nearby kosher meat plant. Soon the two law enforcement officials have stumbled onto what may be an Islamic terrorist plot to poison beef.
As a former deputy sheriff himself, author Harstad has the background to give his novels an authentic feel. He balances his stories between the perspectives of rural law enforcement and a so-called "sophisticated" criminal element. The plot, recounted in flashback, commences with a bang and continues to its gripping conclusion, keeping readers hooked throughout.
Houseman and Gorse make a great team: They have the instincts and knowledge of experienced cops, but their hard edges are tempered by midwestern common sense and a genuine affection for each other and for the people they protect. They give the book a down-home quality that sets it apart from the usual police procedural.
The New York Times
The laconic Houseman is such a honey that it's easy to overlook Harstad's ambitious design for this series. Heartland humor aside, the author draws on changing crime patterns in the Midwest to update our perception of rural lawmen like Houseman. Here Harstad provides his hero with a sounding board for his views on the wave of legal and illegal immigrants who have doubled the population of towns like Battenberg, where the kosher meat plant is.
A bungling group of terrorists try to poison the beef shipped from an Iowa meat plant in the fifth installment of Harstad's Carl Houseman series of police procedurals (Code Sixty-One, etc.). Though buoyed by its engagingly homespun first-person narration and keen sense of place, the novel suffers from an idling plot that is sometimes frustratingly underdeveloped. Houseman, second in command of the Nation County Sheriff's Department, is investigating an execution-style killing in a remote corner of his jurisdiction. The victim is Latino, one of hundreds of recent immigrants to descend on Nation County who have irked the natives by taking local jobs and injecting a form of multiculturalism that doesn't go over well in rural Iowa. Houseman, along with sidekick state agent Hester Gorse, tie the victim and the killer to the new kosher meat plant in neighboring Battenberg, which is now reeling from the discovery that several sides of beef have been poisoned with the toxic substance ricin. Fortunately, there's been only one death so far-that of the inept terrorist who apparently sprayed the poison on himself as well as the beef. Yet Houseman and others suspect the worst: that Islamic fundamentalists have invaded the heartland with a new strategy to kill Jews. Harstad, a 26-year veteran of Iowa law enforcement, steers his plot to a fine shoot-'em-up ending, yet much of this procedural gets bogged down in procedures that are both predictable and fail to advance the action. Worse, Harstad never fully explains who the terrorists are nor identifies their ultimate goal. Nevertheless, his laid-back Midwestern voice and descriptive skills carry the story and prove again that he has the tools to carve a niche of his own in crime fiction. (Oct. 1) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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) imperilstheir safety amid the explosions. Top-drawer Harstad, full of really cool dialogue.