Eleven Days by Donald Harstad
Pages: 370 Published: 1999
Series: Deputy Carl Houseman (Book 1)
Setting: Nation County, Iowa
“My God, my God, help us here, help us here, please…”
Deputy Carl Houseman rushes in his police car in the middle of the night to respond to a terrifying 911 call made from a farmhouse in rural Iowa. What they find when they arrive is a multiple homicide at two different locations. Exploration of the house shows satanic overtones. The 911 caller has vanished. The Des Moines Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) sends out two agents to ensure that the investigation goes smoothly.
Writer Donald Harstad is a retired deputy sheriff with 26 years of experience and his protagonist Carl Houseman is his analog. This novel reads like the veteran hand that wrote it. This is a solid police procedural unlike anything I’ve read. What a gripping story for a debut novel that’s said to be inspired by real life events. We are given an insider’s look from Carl Houseman’s pov of what life is like to work for a small town police department that’s handling a sensational crime. He’s the department’s intelligence officer.
There’s some tension between the state and the county detectives at times based on the fact that Nation county doesn’t see very many homicides. The sheriff department also has a budget problem. Every penny must be accounted for. They are also low-tech. The police department doesn’t even have a fax machine. There is plenty of department politics and “interdepartmental hassles.” Added to that, incompetent investigators threatening to stonewall the case. The media is intentionally shut out to maintain control but they end up indirectly adding undue pressure from officials to get results.
ELEVEN DAYS was compelling although it has some disturbing content done with an assured hand at the finer details. There’s background info on Satanism as a religion that I found rather fascinating. A New York detective is brought in as an expert on the subject of the “occult.” The crime is brutal in the telling of it via photographs and forensic reports in a straight forward way. No autopsy scenes but still this is not a story for the squeamish.
The novel is written at a brisk pace following Carl around as he’s interviewing suspects, smoking cigarettes, drinking tons of coffee and not getting very much sleep. Government officials want results and have threatened to “task force” the case if they don’t solve it soon. The author gives us a glimpse of Carl’s life outside of work. Especially showing how hard Carl tries to not put too much undue stress on his marriage. Often Carl’s gone most evenings and even most days mainly because of the urgency to make an arrest. While his school teacher wife is somewhat understanding at the most critical times, she worries and gets a bit annoyed by his workaholic attitude.
The further I read the faster I read. I kid you not. If I didn’t have to work this book would have been finished in a day. There are some very tension filled scenes in here with a couple of surprises. A calculated risk really gets thing moving for the second half. The ending was sort of a let down but still I loved reading this book. The author did a good job of making you feel immersed in the story via his narrator. There’s a real sense of urgency and danger within key scenes. The build up of suspense of who the killer is and what he is or isn’t capable of was somewhat frightening. He’s described as an ascetic. I felt this author couldn’t wait to put pen to paper to tell this story. Execution was near perfect. There weren’t any loopholes that I can recall. The epilogue made sure of that. There is some humor at just the right moments to lighten up the mood as it can get to be quite dark. Like this one liner:
“Freeze! Police.” God, I love to do that.”
A bit about Carl Houseman: he’s a great character. A good cop and it was good to see how cop’s think. When dealing with witnesses or suspects, he prefers cooperation to force. He’s no dummy either. He knows when to call for back-up. I wouldn’t mind reading more of his adventures and lucky me he appears in three more books after this one. I plan to read every one, too. To quote in part, writer Michael Connelly’s words in praise from the front cover of ELEVEN DAYS: “a hell of a first novel.” It sure is. My grade, a B+. My luck is running ya’ll. Several weeks of bad books and now I am on my third solid read. I hope it continues to be a productive month for reading. Source: I bought it
#1 ELEVEN DAYS
#2 KNOWN: DEAD
#3 THE BIG THAW
#4 CODE SIXTY-ONE