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The Big Thaw by Donald Harstad

The Big Thaw

by Donald Harstad

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Carl Houseman, a deputy sheriff in Nation County, Iowa keeps watching the Weather Channel as the worm-like jet stream moves gradually north bringing the promise of a January thaw. In the meantime, he and his colleagues, not to mention the FBI and Iowa DCI, have their hands full trying to solve the murders of two burglars on a remote farm. There is the usual turf war between the various departments.

The FBI is reluctant to release information to their “hick” fellow officers (there is a very funny scene where the local officers have to remind the FBI city types that tailing someone by car in a remote county where four cars constitutes a traffic jam is not something easily accomplished).

Harstad, a deputy sheriff in Iowa for twenty-six years, obviously knows his rural police work and writes well. Their adversary is the pseudonymous Gabriel, a former special operations Army officer and explosives expert. He has convinced some locals they owe no allegiance to the federal government and can set up their own country, but they need a lot of money to buy a small yield nuclear weapon from the former Soviet Union to give themselves leverage. (I’ve always thought the way to deal with these crazies who want their own countries is to let them have their several hundred acres, fence them off, and then not issue them entry visas into our country. See how long they can last without being able to head to the nearest grocery store to buy food. ☺ )

Houseman is called to assist another deputy in stopping a suspicious driver. It’s Fred, a known burglar, obviously quite shaken, who points them to a farm where his cousins have been killed. The trail leads to Gabriel and black, ultra-fast snowmobiles (these turn out to be FBI issue). Houseman works with his DCI crony, Hester Gorse, (now stationed for her normal rotation on the General Beauregard, a gambling boat on the Mississippi — a great spot for Houseman who loves the boat’s buffet). They gradually collect evidence that suggests Gabriel is going to hit five banks in the area. Good police work narrows down the location to the bank taking the Beauregard’s deposits.

Harstad writes a denouement that is quite realistic and plausible, I thought, unlike some other crime novelists who seems to believe a book must end in an orgy of violence. ( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
Once again, Harstad is fantastic with dialogue and siege scenes. Fascinating for those who love logistics. ( )
  cherilove | Nov 10, 2012 |
I enjoyed the first two books of this series starring Deputy Carl Houseman and set in Iowa. They are totally plot based police procedurals, full of cop jargon, and fairly suspenseful. Houseman is very likable and there is lots of humor to be found, but there is little character development. Sometimes the scenarios become a bit confusing with possible mistakes in the narrative. This one has no more character develpment; all are pretty one-dimensional, including Carl. However, the plot for this one was packed with more suspense and the events are clear in their relationships. The real star of the book is procedure, conveyed in great detail. There is a glossary provided for the many acronyms used with great frequency. Carl again provides humor and everything moves at a pace that precludes boredom. It's a fun read and Harstad's writing has definitely improved. ( )
  KAzevedo | Jul 15, 2010 |
In a scene that reminded me of the freezing north in Fargo, Carl Houseman is a deputy sheriff who is called out to what he thought would be a home robbery but he finds the robbers shot, execution style.
Cletus Borglan is a wealthy farmer who is into anti government stands against government interference in his life. While he's in Florida his home is borken into. As the investigation slows down, Carl and one of his men stop a snowmobiler who has night goggles and a sound suppressor on his snowmobile. After a confrontation they find the person is an FBI agent, under cover.

When the Agent in Charge of the local FBI office arrives at the police station he informs the officers that he's been trailing a man named Gabriel, aka John Henry Nieuhauser who is a bank robber and planning to rob a number of banks in the area.

In the second half of the book Carl and his department, and the FBI attempt to stop the robbers. This part of the book was drawn out and the pace slowed down.

Harstad's writing style is vivid and picturesque. It's easy for the reader to imagine the scenes unfolding in front on him as if it's on a movie screen.
Houseman is an interesting character. I pictured him as John Goodman and enjoyed his humor even more. He is knowledgable but still flawed. It was also an interesting note to see the effect of long hours of investigating on Carl's family life. ( )
  mikedraper | Jul 10, 2009 |
Un scénario pour un film d'action. ( )
  kanichat | Oct 6, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0553583034, Mass Market Paperback)

Don't let the title of this dry suspense novel fool you. It's very cold in January in Iowa, the setting for Donald Harstad's third outing in his series featuring Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman and his partner Hester Gorse. The only thing mild is the humor in this spare procedural, which involves the usual turf battle between the white hats (local law enforcement) and the black hats (the FBI) as a sidebar to the main plot. Instead of the mean streets and criminal underclass of urban thrillers, we get the militant extremists who frequent the vast, empty reaches of the Midwest. In this case, the black hats are onto the crazies, and the local good guy, Deputy Carl, is caught in the crossfire. The crazies want enough money to blow the heartland (who wouldn't, in January?), and to get it, they're prepared to blow up Iowa's biggest economic asset, a riverboat casino on the Mississippi. They're being manipulated by a chief crazy (or maybe an arch crazy) named Gabriel, and (naturally) the feds have been a few steps behind Gabriel for a while now. Deputy Carl is a nice guy, but irony is not his strong suit, and he's not particularly fast on the uptake, either. Eventually he does save the day in this somewhat pedestrian and slow-motion regional mystery. If you liked the movie Fargo, you'll love The Big Thaw. --Jane Adams

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:21 -0400)

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