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The Big Thaw: A Novel Hardcover – August 15, 2000


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (August 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385495692
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385495691
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,807,562 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

From Publishers Weekly

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 stiffAafter 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.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

And to think someone got paid to proof-read this book.
Jim Klosterboer
Carl Houseman captures the classic northeast Iowan of nordic descent.
Amazon Customer
The best thrillers give a real sense of place and atmosphere.
debbie lansdown

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Charlotte Vale-Allen VINE VOICE on November 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Donald Harstad is one of the rare writers whose basic good humor shines through his work while managing not to inflict himself on the material. This is no small accomplishment, and I believe that this man is a natural. His writing is never labored; he has a splendid gift for narrative flow and for creating likeable, believable characters.
The Big Thaw starts out with the mystery of who murdered two young burglars and spreads to a far larger scenario with critical international implications. Harstad actually makes us feel the miserable cold of the Iowa winter while creating a very real sense of the territory he knows so well. The climax of this tale, set on a riverboat gambling casino, is beautifully executed, causing the reader to wonder every step of the way how this impossible situation will be resolved. As it turns out, it is done with great imagination and at a pace that leaves one fairly winded.
My only quibble, and it's a small one, is the author's fondness for grins. Every last character grins. Occasionally somebody smiles, but mostly, grinning rules the day. However, the editor, more than the author, is to blame for failing not only to pick up on some spelling errors but also this (admittedly minor) repetition. It certainly doesn't detract from the story or from Mr. Harstad's considerable talent, but he deserves to have his work treated with more care. I recommend this series enthusiastically.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By sweetmolly on February 22, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
As we in the South would say, Harstad's Chief Deputy Carl Houseman is "just darlin'." You just can't help loving a guy who when pleased says "Cool!" and suffers with his enforced Low Fat diet by ordering pancakes, scrambled eggs, and waffles with "lo-fat syrup." Carl is enamored of high-tech devices that are a financial impossibility for a sheriff's department in rural Iowa. The author's 26 years of law enforcement experience are pivotal in making his stories so authentic sounding, it feels like true crime.
The Nation County Sheriff's patrol is cruising their 750 square mile jurisdiction in minus 20-degree weather trying to get a lead on some burglaries taking place in empty "snowbird" residences. (Folks with good sense who flee from Iowa winters) Carl almost runs down a forlorn figure who has been honking his horn. Local ne'er do well, Fred "Goober" Houseman finally admits he is the wheelman for the latest rash of robberies and says his two cousins who were going to rob the nearest farm last night never came out, and now poor ole Fred doesn't know what to do, so he's been sitting there honking the horn.
Upon investigation, Carl finds two frozen corpses in a shed by the empty house. The crime unravels to much more than burglaries and appears to have a far right wing militant conspiracy involved. The story escalates into a bang-up conclusion that really needs to be on the big screen with splendiferous special effects.
This is my second Donald Harstad book, and he just keeps getting better. His characterizations are subtle and nuanced. He is careful to keep his 99 percent law abiding and normal Iowa citizens in the forefront, so the reader doesn't get the impression only serial killers and loonies live in northern Iowa. And this is a man who knows COLD. Read it in front of the fire!
-sweetmolly-Amazon Reviewer
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Tor Riley on April 11, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Its two years after the events described in `Known Dead', and it's deep winter in Iowa. The action starts with a car chase that nets a burglary lookout who is terrified that his cousins whom he dropped off two days before to rob a holiday home might have died from exposure. Deputy Carl Houseman investigate the property and find two bodies all right, but inside the property and definitely not dead from hypothermia. The absent owner arrives, all aggression and bluster, and the plot starts to thicken. Added to the pot are an over-confident FBI surveillance team, a floating casino, an incompetent sniper, paranoid right-wing loons, a frozen river, media reporters, and a very bright survivalist-cum-bank robber in the form of the infamous Gabriel, last seen in `Known Dead'.
While I agree with another reviewer's comments about the sloppy proof-reading, these are infrequent enough that they didn't detract from my enjoyment of the book, and can be laid firmly at the door of the publisher, not the author. Harstad brings his protagonist, Houseman, to life with his descriptions of an experienced police officer getting dressed using short cuts learned from experience, in his realistic conversations and descriptions with other characters, in his explanations of police procedure. Houseman is a very credible character, sympathetic, astute, self-deprecating, and always hungry. Harstad imbues him with a gentle wit that is been best seen in his interactions with his favourite dispatcher, Sally Wells and DCI investigator Hester Gorse. Now, Sally could give Hester a run for her money as a detective, in my opinion. Harstads' favourite foils are back in the form of the pedantic Art Meyermann, now working for DCI, and the robotic FBI counter-terrorist agent Volont, constantly out-thought by his arch-enemy Gabriel.
Like Harstad's earlier books in this series, I really enjoyed this one. Highly recommended.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By L P Griffin on May 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As a law enforcement officer for seven years, I can attest to the feelings Harstad manages to relay. Although fictional in content, the manner of investigating and the underlying perspectives about the case are true to form for a Deputy Sheriff. The book offers that, although our senses and instincts are screaming not to do something, officers don't have a choice and often have to wait a long time for backup in a "creepy" situation. But don't be misdirected, the book isn't written for police officers, nor is it intended to make others aware of how we feel. It is truly enjoyable reading, written from a realistic officer's perspective, that keeps everyone's attention from cover to cover. As a reader, you get to experience the case (all case investigations are mysteries until solved) and realize the facts as they appear, formulating your own conclusions as you go. Good job, Mr. Harstad. True entertainment.
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