Cover image for Known dead : a novel
Known dead : a novel
Harstad, Donald.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, 1999.
Physical Description:
323 pages ; 25 cm
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



With a singular voice, a spellbinding insider perspective on small-town heartland crime-solving, and a cast of characters straight out of a Coen brothers movie,Known Deadsolidifies Donald Harstad's growing reputation as the finest new voice in crime fiction. No one knows the underbelly of Nation County, Iowa, better than Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman. But with thirteen hundred-odd miles of hills and curves to negotiate in the county's 750-square-mile border, there's only so much territory he can cover in an eight-hour shift. Time passes slowly riding alone, but when lives are measured in seconds and backup could be hours away, one false move can get a cop killed. InKnown Dead, Carl hits the ground running when he hears the call sign "officer needs assistance." As the blistering summer sun beats down on him, Carl steps into the middle of a war zone in an isolated and densely wooded patch of land. With two known dead and sixty-seven empty shell casings from any number of high-powered weapons, Carl has no clue about why or where the guns are pointing. Sheriff Lamar Ridgeway and DCI agent Hester Gorse are on their way, but Carl knows he's riding point; and for the life of him, he can't separate the killers from the kill. Filled with deadpan humor and brilliant police procedural narrative,Known Deadcould only have been written by a man who's been in a heartland patrol car himself.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Harstad's second novel (after the excellent Eleven Days, [BKL Ap 15 98]), also starring Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman of Nation County, Iowa, is as well written and challenging as its predecessor. When a police surveillance of a marijuana patch found in a state park goes fatally wrong, and a small-time drug dealer and a narcotics agent are killed, Houseman--and a large collection of not-always-helpful police colleagues and government agents--tries to sort out exactly what happened. Did the police surveillance stumble upon a gang of foreign drug dealers? Was a paramilitary militia group operating in the park? Or was something else, something a little less conspiratorial, going on? Harstad, a former Iowa deputy sheriff, is apparently not interested in writing flashy, cutting-edge mysteries, and that's good: his down-to-earth style and knowledge of investigative technique make his novels more realistic--and therefore more compelling--than many of his competitors'. Written (like Ed McBain's rather more famous police procedurals) with a delightful sense of humor, and displaying a deft handling of pace and character that would make other, more well known writers jealous, this fine novel not only fulfills the promise of Harstad's debut but instantly propels him into the top ranks of mystery writers. Sure to be much in demand. --David Pitt

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 policingÄincluding 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 coffeeÄdescribed sip-by-sipÄand 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) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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.ÄJo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights-University Heights P.L. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



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. "MAITLAND, FOUR ON AID!" 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 . . ." "MAITLAND, THIS IS FOUR . . . THIS IS TEN-THIRTY-THREE, I REPEAT, TEN-THIRTY-THREE! WE'VE BEEN HIT, AUTOMATIC WEAPONS, 688 IS SHOT! I NEED ASSISTANCE, FAST!" A brief pause. "Four," she said, pretty calmly, "I copy ten-thirty-three, ten-thirty-two, one officer down?" "Ten-four!" "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. Excerpted from Known Dead by Donald Harstad All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.