Cover image for Code sixty-one : a novel
Code sixty-one : a novel
Harstad, Donald.
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First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, 2002.
Physical Description:
x, 370 pages ; 25 cm
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With his dead-on depictions of the rural crime beat in such critically acclaimed novels asEleven Days,Known Dead, andThe Big Thaw, Donald Harstad proved himself to be a master of the police procedural and a keen observer of the intrigues and eccentricities of the American heartland. InCode Sixty-one, Harstad furthers his talents, bringing his offbeat,Fargoesque style to a gripping tale about modern-day vampires. Investigating the apparent suicide of a colleague's niece, Iowa Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman uncovers a group that has transformed the dark fantasies of vampire legendinto grisly reality: they ritualistically drink small amounts of one another's blood. As Houseman and his partner, Hester Gorse, are drawn deeper into this alternate, alien world, they come to the chilling conclusion that the dead young woman may have been the victim of a twenty-first-century Dracula. Their prime suspect, Dan Peal, is a sinister and commanding presence within the group, but without proof to substantiate such a heinous theory, the trail is in danger of running cold. When their suspicions are bolstered by the report of a card-carrying vampire-hunter who is also pursuing Peal, Houseman and Gorse suddenly find themselves scrambling to track the vampire before he kills again. A spellbinding journey into the dark recesses of the modern-day heartland, Code Sixty-oneunfolds with relentless speed and precision. Veteran police officer and author Donald Harstad continues to craft his work from the fabric of personal experience and insider know-how, cutting to the quick of well-imagined fiction, rattling nerves along the way.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Only a writer of considerable narrative gifts could make a vampire invasion of a down-at-the-heels Mississippi River town in Iowa convincing--not just convincing but downright chilling. Harstad, in his fourth police procedural, pulls it off easily, thanks largely to his hero and narrator, Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman, of Nation County, Iowa. It is Houseman's straightforward, even deadpan narrative voice that makes it possible for us to believe in the local vampires, who peer into windows and leave blood-drained corpses in bathtubs. Houseman sprinkles his narrative with wry comments on his own inadequacies, one of which, his fear of heights, is front and center at this book's beginning, as he is summoned to a decaying house, crazily perched on a bluff over the Mississippi, on an attempted entry call. Focused on his fear, Houseman pays little attention to the woman's charge that a vampire was peering in at her. That changes when two bodies are found in the next 48 hours, one across the river in Wisconsin, the other in Iowa, in a small-town mansion. Both victims have deep neck wounds, forcing Houseman to investigative the unthinkable. Initially, the other cops treat both the usually sensible Houseman and a professional vampire hunter who joins the hunt as nuts, but even they become more and more spooked as local Goths make their tastes known. A terrific read--by turns, funny, eerie, and insightful. --Connie Fletcher

Publisher's Weekly Review

A call to a Peeping Tom incident starts Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman on his strangest case yet in this nicely low-key but compelling page-turner. True, the Iowa lawman encountered Satanists in his debut, Eleven Days (1998), but the perp described hanging in thin air outside the upper story window looks like Bela Lugosi. When a body drained of blood is reported in a rural mansion, Houseman realizes this investigation isn't going to be routine, or easy. More bodies pile up, in Iowa and across the Mississippi in Wisconsin (with a fellow cop noting, "Vampire. Suspect that weird has to be from your side of the river"). Police radio chatter "Ten-four, Comm. 'I'll be ten-seventy-six to the scene'" and details of the manhunt could not be more authentic, since the author (Known Dead; The Big Thaw) spent 26 years in law enforcement. He even includes a glossary of ten codes for the curious. With laconic masterstrokes, Harstad complicates his plot with the arrival on the scene of a professional vampire hunter, problems with a disgruntled subordinate and Houseman's introduction to the sexual underworld of blood sports. Series regulars such as investigator Hester Gorse and Old Knockle do their turns, with officer Sally Wells copping the funniest moments why not bring some garlic on the stake-out, just in case? The suspect is supposed to be a vampire. Harstad has crafted another engrossing entry in one of the best new police procedural series. (Apr. 16) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Carl Houseman, primary detective for the Nation County Sheriff's Department, is called out to the apparent suicide of his boss's niece. After a careful crime scene investigation and a thorough autopsy, it is clear that Edie Younger could not have cut her own throat. The wound is very similar to that of a young man found dead in nearby Wisconsin. To complicate matters, the dead man's girlfriend had reported seeing a vampire-like creature outside her window. As Houseman and Iowa State Special Agent Hester Gorse grapple with people who actually believe that one of them is a real vampire, the story becomes a picture-perfect police procedural. Everything is here the painstaking search for evidence, the questioning of suspects and witnesses, the hours spent in the rain on stakeout, and the attention to the rules of law. This fourth book in the series by Harstad, a former deputy sheriff with 26 years of experience, is packed with suspense, heart-stopping action, and haunting scenes. For all fiction collections. Jo Ann Vicarel, Cleveland Heights-Univ. P.L., Ohio (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



One Thursday, October 5, 2000 23:33 I guess I could say it started for us on Thursday, October 5, 2000. I can say that now. I sure couldn't at the time. It was exactly 23:33 hours, and I was just leaving the scene of a minor fender bender, and was en route home when the communications center called. "Comm, Three?" came crackling over the radio, from the familiar voice of my favorite dispatcher, Sally Wells. I picked up my mike, suspicious already. "This is Three. Go ahead." "Three, we have a 911 intruder call, 606 Main, Freiberg. Female subject needs immediate assistance. Freiberg officer has been dispatched and is requesting backup." I sighed audibly. "Ten-four, Comm." I took stock of my current location. "I'll be ten-seventy-six to the scene from about seven miles out on County Four Victor Six." "Three, ten-seventy-six. Three, not sure if this is completely ten-thirty-three, but you might be aware that the female subject indicated that there was a man trying to come in her window." I reached down and turned on my red and blue top lights. "Three is en route. Can she ID the suspect?" "Contact was broken by the caller, Three. Auto callback rings through, no answer. Female subject was very excited, but described the intruder as a white male with . . ." She paused, and I thought I had detected barely suppressed humor in her voice. "Ah, continuing, Three. Suspect described as white male with teeth." "Teeth, Comm?" "Ten-four, Three. Teeth." "Ah, okay, ten-four. Still en route. Advise when the Freiberg car goes ten-twenty-three at the scene." Teeth? "Ten-four, Three. Will advise." Teeth? I distinctly remember thinking that I wasn't going to hear the end of that one for a while. At least it wasn't a gun or a knife. I really hate knives. Our usual shortage of deputies available for duty had been aggravated by an early appearance of the flu in the last two weeks, so from a total of nine, we were down to five or four effectives, depending on who called in sick next, and when the next officer came back. As senior officer, I still had to pull twelve-hour shifts, but my exalted status meant that I got first choice of which shift I would work. I'd chosen noon to midnight. It was a combination of the shift that was the most fun, and the one where you could get the most actual work done. About two minutes later, I heard Byng, the Freiberg officer, go 10-23 at the scene. "I was ten-four direct, Comm," I said, letting Sally know that I had heard him and to keep her from having to tell me. That was because her transmissions from the base station were so much more powerful than ours, she could obliterate a transmission from the Freiberg officer, especially when he was on his walkie-talkie. She simply clicked her mike button twice in close succession, in acknowledgment. I passed the last farm before the Freiberg city limits, took the big, downhill curve at about eighty-five, and began braking as I entered the forty-five zone. I was down to forty as I made the next turn, and was on Marquette Street, the two-story frame houses of the residential area changing into the three-story brick storefronts of the nearly deserted four-block business district. I cut my top lights, the red and blue reflections in the store windows being a distraction as I looked for anybody out on the sidewalks. Still slowing, I headed down the gently sloping street that was cut short by the black line that was the Mississippi River. I heard the static distorted voice of Byng. "Where ya at, Three?" "Downtown." As I keyed the mike, I saw his car parked off to my right. "Have your car in sight." By telling him that, he could give me better directions. "Okay . . . I'm on the second floor above Curls & Cuts. Up the stairs on the right, the blue door." "Ten-four." I swung my car to the right, pulling up near the curb about thirty feet ahead of his car. "Comm, Three's ten-twenty-three," I said into my mike as I unsnapped my seat belt, grabbed my rechargeable flashlight, turned on my own walkie-talkie, and opened my car door. Simultaneously, I heard the voices of both Byng and Sally back at Comm. She, being over twenty-five miles away and using a powerful transmitter, and he, very close but behind a brick wall and using a very weak transmitter, canceled each other out almost perfectly. Knowing that she was merely acknowledging me, and not being at all sure of what Byng had said, I picked up my car radio mike and said, "Stand by a sec, Comm." The feedback into my now active walkie-talkie let out a screech, and I turned its volume down without thinking. Still with the car radio, I said, "Byng?" "Yeah, Three. Hey, why don't you come around the back way? I don't know what we got here. Neighbor says the victim has gone and thinks she heard her leave and that she went up onto the roof." I swung my feet back into my car, started the engine, shut the door, and said, "I'm on my way." "Uh, Three . . . You might want to check ground level . . . Can't figure why she'd go to the roof." "Ten-four." I couldn't, either, but people do strange things when they're scared. I sure as hell wouldn't go up, but then I have a thing about heights. I had to go almost another block before I reached a side street. Freiberg is located between two big bluffs, and is only four streets wide at its widest point. Spaces being at a premium, cross streets are few and far between. The fact that the cross streets all required a bridge to span the open drainage "conduit" contributed to their scarcity. The so-called conduit was about thirty feet wide, ten to twelve feet deep, with limestone banks and a concrete floor. It was dug in the 1890s to accommodate the vast drainage that came down off the bluffs during heavy rains. It ran the length of the town, and emptied into the Mississippi. It was not, as they say, kid-proof, and offered a nearly invisible path for burglars as well. I bumped over the bridge deck, and took a sharp right, doubling back on the other side of the stores and apartments above them. I stopped as close to the bridge as I could, and opened my car door for the second time. "Comm, Three's out'a the car," I said, mostly to let Byng know I was now behind the buildings. "Ten-four, Three," said Sally. She was monitoring the conversation between Byng and me, and was starting to sound a little concerned. The conduit was, unfortunately, between the buildings and me. The fire department had fits over that all the time, but there was just no way to put a road in behind the stores on the other side of the big ditch. Not without tearing all the buildings down and moving them into the street on the other side. Without a road or alley directly behind the buildings, most of them had constructed their own little footbridges across to their loading areas. Easy access, as they say, but easy for burglars as well. For that reason, I had gotten very, very familiar with the area over the years. The lighting sucked. One yellowish orange light at the road bridge, and one about a block away. Not much room for them, either, because of the hundred-fifty-foot limestone bluff looming up on my left. It was sheer, naked rock for about fifty feet, and then brush and trees began sprouting all the way to the top. The builders had to squeeze the road in, and the whole area was a sandwich of necessity. Bluff, road, conduit, buildings. No room for anything else. I squeezed the rubberized transmit button of my walkie-talkie. "Which one you in, Byng?" It was really hard to differentiate the various stores from the rear. Looking up, most of them had some light visible in the second floor. Most third floors in this block were empty, mainly because the heating in the winter was so expensive. Even as I spoke, I saw him at one of the windows on the second floor. "Up here, Three," he said. Very faint. I'd forgotten to turn my walkie-talkie volume back up. I looked closely at the back of his building. A poorly maintained external wooden stair led up the back, to a very narrow platform at the second floor. From there an iron ladder that was bolted to the brick wall rose up to the roof. Great. If the victim had fled upward, this particular cop was going to have to meet her when she came down. I really do hate heights. "Byng, you got a location for the suspect?" "Negative, Three. All I got is what your office said. White male with teeth." "Okay. I don't see the victim here. You got any better ideas where I might--" I was interrupted by a female voice. "Help!" It sounded like it was coming from the building, but there was something odd about it. I played my flashlight along the rows of windows, hoping to see her. Byng stuck his flashlight out the window where he was, and played it down toward the ground. I got a queasy feeling in my stomach. If he was inside and thought it had come from outdoors, and I was outside and thought it had come from up where he was . . . The roof. She could be on the roof. The rear of the store was four windows wide at the second-floor level. Usually, there was a pair to each apartment, with the hall between. The door at the top of the stair very likely marked the division between apartments. I looked at the reddish brown wooden walkway over the conduit. Nothing special, and absolutely no indication of a foot track on its deck. Its rails were just two-by-fours with peeling paint. I shined my flashlight down into the wide ditch, and checked the damp, accumulated silt as far as I could see. No foot tracks there, either. Too bad. Tracks in the silt had solved at least two burglaries for me in the past. I shined my flashlight up on to the rear of the buildings, left to right. There were all sorts of color variations, pieces of black felt and tar paper dangling from unused windows and old doors. One in particular, a door that just opened up to emptiness because the stair had collapsed years ago, seemed to be packed with a black drop cloth. I checked the roofline for any ropes or fittings. Just making sure we didn't have somebody who had dropped in, so to speak. There weren't any. Good. "Where do you want me?" I said into the mike on my shoulder. "Nobody down there?" "Nobody I can see." "Why don't you come on up the back way? I think . . . it sounds like she's above me someplace." "Yeah." "I'm going up the next flight, see if I can get to the roof from the third floor." Great. I'm not exactly slight, and I really didn't want to haul my 270 pounds up those chancy wooden steps. Damn. I took a deep breath. "Be right up," I said. As I reached the narrow platform at the top, I paused and looked back down, illuminating the area with my flashlight. All the way into the bottom of the drainage ditch. Looking down probably thirty-five or forty feet. Instant vertigo. I grabbed the railing, and forced myself to look back toward the building. Wow. I hate when that happens. I turned as I let go of the rail, and was at the door in one step, trying to look casual. It's not that I'm ashamed of my little height problem, but it's bad for the image if you're a cop. I took another deep breath, and forced myself to concentrate on the door. Swell. It was about as wide as the damned platform, and opened outward. I had to take a half step back, onto that platform again, before I could get the stupid door open. When I did, the platform creaked. I turned sideways and squeezed around the partially opened door, and found myself in a dim hallway, between two apartments, just as I had assumed. There was an open door on my left, leading into a surprisingly nice, well-lighted kitchen area. The door on my right was closed. Clear at the other end of the hallway was a stair, leading to the third floor. There was an older woman standing near the stair. "He thinks she's up on the roof," she said loudly. "He's gone upstairs to see if he can get to the roof, but I told him he can't." "Thanks," I said under my breath. I heard the voice again, very muted this time, as I was now inside. But there was no mistaking it. Not panicky, but frightened. Byng apparently heard it as well. Excited, I could hear his voice thundering from upstairs, and on my walkie-talkie at the same time. "The roof! She's on the roof! Get to the roof!" Well, I was closest to the goddamned ladder. I turned, and headed back out onto that creaking platform. I stood for a second, looking at the ladder in the beam of my flashlight. Rusty iron. Bolted to the brick, but I could see the thick rust around the bolts, and some orangeish stuff where the bolts had worked in the brick. Shit. I could hear Byng's running steps as he came off the stair at the far end of the building, and started down the hall toward my platform. There wasn't room for both of us. I took a very deep breath, slipped my flashlight in my belt, grabbed the sides of the ladder, and took one step up. "Not too bad. Not too bad"--I kept repeating that as I took the second step. Excerpted from Code Sixty-One 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.