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.)
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