Eleven Days – Donald Harstad

Eleven Days by Donald HarstadEleven Days is my first Donald Harstad, which is fitting since it is also Donald Harstad’s first novel. Reading this one, I tend to think the man is either a genius or he has a couple dozen more novels squirreled away he hasn’t admitted to yet. Either way, he reads like a seasoned author, one who has learned to trust his characters and the intelligence of his readers. Harstad draws on his 26 years of service as a deputy sheriff in northeastern Iowa and he never stumbles. Most of the murders he details are particularly gruesome, but I get no sense that he has embellished anything just for the sake of gore. In fact, I get the distinct impression that he is deliberately down-playing the scenes, trying to avoid too realistic a presentation of the violence and that is in itself most unsettling. I own a copy of Practical Homicide Investigation and some of the pictures (even though, thankfully, in black and white) will make you hurl at first glance. I get the sense that it is that type of reaction Harstad is protecting us from. Still, the story reads with such reality that I read with a knot in my stomach, cringing at the violence we do in this world, and hoping for the safety of Harstad’s characters.

It is, appropriately, the characters who drive the drama. I like that in a novel. There is nothing hokey here, no “gosh-blame-it” Opie hicks in sight. These read like real people with real concerns and hurts and good humor. Despite the violence, Harstad’s small town Iowa sounds like a place I’d love to live. A place where the sheriff’s department is just a phone call away and where I’ll find someone who cares on the other end of the line. I’ll be visiting Nation County again. I already have the rest of the series lined up on my desk, ready for the weekend.


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