Cover image for The big thaw
The big thaw
Harstad, Donald.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, 2000.
Physical Description:
356 pages ; 25 cm
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On the heels of the Anthony Award--nominatedEleven Daysand the critically acclaimedKnown Dead,The Big Thawis homegrown heartland thrills from Iowa's own answer to Michael Connelly. Donald Harstad writes the way Iowans live, with no-nonsense direction, an innate sense of right and wrong, and a dry Midwestern brand of humor. In today's urban-dominated thriller landscape, Harstad is working the rural crime beat to perfection. While battling a grueling thirty-below-zero Iowa January, Carl Houseman is baffled by a series of burglaries in the deserted backwoods farms of Nation County. The Iowa snowbirds have flown south, leaving their houses and valuables for the taking. The last thing Carl wants to do is leave the comfort of his toasty kitchen, stocked with a full pot of coffee and a plate full of low-fat donuts. But when news of a high-speed chase warbles out of his police scanner, he knows there is no one else to pick up the slack and join in the pursuit. Little does he know that the suspected cat burglar tearing up the back roads is not running from the police.  He's running from what he found at the seemingly abandoned farm of Cletus Borglan, Maitland's answer to Bill Gates. Carl thinks he's seen it all in his twenty-odd-year career as deputy sheriff of Nation County, but this time the bad guys are uncannily intelligent. For the men lying low at the Borglan compound have much bigger plans than penny-ante robbery. They're waiting for a break in the weather to pull off a masterful siege of Nation County's biggest economic asset--the Colonel Beauregard, a floating casino on the Mississippi River.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

It's fascinating to follow Harstad's hero-narrator, Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman of Nation County, Iowa, through a crime scene. Houseman proceeds with absolute confidence, making the slightest depression in the carpeting intriguing, treating the reader to insights gleaned from physical evidence that only a firsthand authority can render. That authority is Harstad himself, who spent 26 years as a deputy sheriff in northeastern Iowa before turning to crime fiction. In this third in the series featuring Houseman and his incisive partner, General Criminal Agent Hester Gorse, the discovery of two frozen burglars in a machine shed on a farm leads Houseman and Gorse to an elaborate plot against a Mississippi riverboat casino. Houseman deadpans his way through the vagaries of a case that depends upon his outfoxing a mix of forensics specialists, attorneys, politicians, and even the FBI Snowmobile Detail. Harstad is one of the most reliable and riveting police-procedural writers in the business. --Connie Fletcher

Publisher's Weekly Review

Anthony Award nominee Harstad (Eleven Days and Known Dead) makes a third foray to the town of Nation County, Iowa, in this compelling police procedural. One cold winter night, Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman gets a call to join the pursuit of a burglary suspect who's leading the police on a merry car chase. When the suspect drives into a snowy ditch, Houseman digs him out and recognizes him as Fred Grothler, a bored kid who's committed petty crimes in the past. Fred confesses that he and his two cousins, Dirk and Royce Colson, have been responsible for a spate of recent break-ins into the homes of wealthy residents staying warm in Florida. Two nights earlier he dropped his cousins off at Cletus Borglan's palatial farmhouse, but they never came out. Maybe they froze? Houseman visits the farm and indeed finds Dirk and Royce frozen stiffÄafter having been shot dead. Hardly any of the characters in this busy novel are what they seem. Upstanding citizen Borglan keeps a library whose contents betray his extreme antigovernment views. Even the FBI special agent who takes charge of the case has some strange associates for a lawman. A retired deputy sheriff, Harstad writes "cop talk" that's not only believable but often (intentionally) funny. He also supplies plenty of interesting trivia. For instance, half a million quarters, stacked, stretch 4.2 miles and weigh 25,000 pounds. That's what Houseman and Hester Gorse, his second in command, have to secure on the Beauregard, Nation County's floating casino and scene of the book's spectacular finale. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

In the last several years, the police procedural, once dominated by Americans, has seen a number of good British authors take over the field. Now America has come back with Harstad, a former deputy sheriff and a truly great storyteller. In this third novel about Nation County, IA, Carl Houseman is joined once again by Hester Gorse, a state detective, and Special Agent George Pollard of the FBI to solve the murders of two burglars on a farm whose owner is vacationing in Florida. The owner has militia leanings and contacts with people who are very dangerous. Harstad sets up the story beautifully, with intense suspense, an intriguing investigation that has all the authentic trappings, and a believable cast of police personnel. He gets better and better with each book. For every library collecting in this genre.DJo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights-University Heights P.L., OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Monday, January 12, 1998, 2309 About a minute after I got settled in bed, I heard a faint scratching sound. It took me a second to realize that I'd left my police walkie-talkie on. It was sitting in its charger, about fifteen feet from the bed. I thought about getting up and turning it off, but there were several reasons I didn't. First, Sue was already asleep beside me, and I didn't want to wake her by moving around some more. Second, the intermittent transmissions by the bored dispatcher were kind of soothing, in a distant way. I could hear her talk, but the volume was set so low, I couldn't make out the words. Perfect. Third, I was just too damned tired to get up. I was getting to that presleep stage, when the pitch of the dispatcher's voice began to rise. After a moment, she began to speak rapidly, excitedly to cars that were apparently too far away for me to hear. I sat up, and listened for a moment. Still couldn't make out the content, and now I just had to find out. I swung my legs off the bed, got up, and padded over to the little radio. Just in time to be able to make out the Maitland car, which was within a quarter mile of me, asking a question. "Comm, Twenty-five, what's going on?" "Twenty-five, Five and Nine are in pursuit of a burglary suspect, out on the old Grange road." I knew what was coming, and was reaching for the phone when it rang. "They want some assistance, and Lamar said to call you, since it might involve a burglary investigation. They started the chase about five minutes ago down by Hellman's curve, and they've been going up . . ." "Okay . . ." I interrupted, "just let me get dressed . . . give me directions after I'm in the car . . ." "Ten-four . . ." She was new, and newbies had a tendency to use ten codes over the phone. "Wear your long johns, it's getting really cold." "Yeah . . ." as I hung up the phone. "Who was that?" mumbled Sue. "Gotta go . . . they're chasing a guy and need help." I reached into my drawer and pulled out my long underwear. I pulled it on, and put on two pair of socks. "Dress warm . . ." came a mumbled caution from Sue, who was going back to sleep. "Yep . . ." I pulled on my uniform trousers, which had the utility belt attached, and were hanging next to the bed. On with the laced Gor-Tex boots, stand, slip on the turtlenecked jersey shirt, grab the uniform shirt, pull the pants up, tuck everything in, pull the "woolly-pully" sweater over my head, and I was heading down stairs less than three minutes after the phone had rung. On the way to the back door, I grabbed my handgun out of the drawer, and inserted a magazine. I pulled back the slide to chamber a round, pressed the hammer drop, and shoved it into my holster. I pulled my little walkie-talkie out of its charger, and grabbed my recharging flashlight from the shelf by the door as I left the house. When I opened the door, it was like walking into a wall of cold air. "Boy," I breathed to myself. Marsha's "really cold" hadn't done it justice. I used my sweater sleeve to protect my hand as I opened the car door. Even in the garage, it wasn't smart to touch metal in this weather. I turned the key, and the engine took right off. Back out of the car, unplugging the engine heater, then hit the button to open the door. In the car, turned on the defroster, set the temperature to high, turned on the headlights, dropped the rechargeable flashlight into its charger on the dash, rear-window defroster to "on." I turned on my flashing headlights and red dash and rear-window lights as I backed out. Then the police car radio. ". . . onto Willims road, but not sure . . ." came blasting over the speaker. Sounded like Five's voice. I waited a beat to make sure the radio traffic was clear, then picked up the mike and told the office that I was back at work. "Three's ten-eight. Comm," I said, "where you want me?" Hopefully I would be able to get ahead of the chase from here in Maitland, and not end up following the pack. "Stand by, Three," crackled the voice. She had no choice, but I was already at the main intersection leading out of Maitland, so I had to stop and wait to be told which way to turn. Frustrating, but not a lot could be done about it. I fastened my seat belt and shoulder harness. "Five," she asked, "where do you want Three to go?" As luck would have it, he was close enough for me to hear his transmissions, so Marsha wasn't going to have to rebroadcast everything we said. "Tell him to head north, toward the Whiskey 6 Victor intersection, then west toward the County Line road . . ." "Three's direct," I snapped, saving Marsha and the rest of us a little time. "Three, Five, I've been behind this idiot for almost eight miles. New snow, can't see him anymore, but I'm following the tracks and the cloud of snow." Nine struggled. "Ten-four." Been there. With new snow, the first thing you lose in a chase is the taillights of the vehicle you're chasing. Snow packs up on the rear of the suspect vehicle, and they just fade out. Quickly. Then, if the car you're chasing is moving fairly fast, they throw up a rooster tail of snow, and you don't even get to see the reflections from their headlights. The good news is that the tracks they leave make it virtually impossible to lose their direction of travel. It's just that you can't be sure how far ahead they actually are. So, to avoid running into the back of them at a high rate of speed, you tend to get a little cautious. Because of that, they tend to lengthen their lead. "Any idea how far up he is on you?" I asked. Five answered. "Probably not more than a mile. I'm doing about sixty, and it's really hard to stay on the road. His tracks look like he's fishtailing a lot on the curves, so he's probably about sixty too." "Ten-four, and where's Nine at?" "Ah just tried to cut 'em off and missed . . ." came Nine's familiar drawl. "Ah'm behind Five somewhere, I think . . ." Out of the picture, in other words. Damn. "You think I can get to the intersection by Ullan's farm, Five, before the suspect gets there?" "Close . . ." he said. "Could be close." Excerpted from The Big Thaw: A Novel 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.