'Long December' for former deputy

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Author Don Harstad has chosen a land he is intimately familiar with as the basis for his fifth novel, "A Long December."

Nation County, Iowa, set in the northeastern corner of the state is loosely based on Clayton County where Harstad spent 20 years as a deputy sheriff, patrolling the back roads and watching the population change from Irish-German to a place where as many as 19 different languages are spoken.

He uses the experiences from this tour of duty to tell a tale of terror as it invades this remote rural community, bringing an outgrowth of international trade never thought of by the NAFTA trade agreement.

The people of Nation County practice a unique brand of American stoicism, and they rely on their public servants to shield them from the horrors of the outside world.

Carl Houseman, deputy sheriff of the 750-square-mile county, dedicates his life to keeping this citizenry so secure that you can leave the doors unlocked at home and walk his streets with a big hello and smile to every stranger. On Houseman's watch, the mounting terrors of the new world order stay far away.

But that all changes in December of 2001.

Like much of Iowa, outsiders are everywhere, taking jobs from the locals.

The meat packing plant is now kosher and there are more rabbis per capita than any other place in the country. A growing population of Latinos plus Uzbeks, Georgians and other refugees from the break up of the old Soviet Union are everywhere. Many with dubious immigration papers. Eighteen languages besides English are now spoken within the tiny region and Houseman only speaks English.

Then a bloody murder, witnessed by the 80-odd-year-old Heinman brothers on a lonely county road down in Frog Hollow, sets the wheels in motion for a murder mystery filled with strange twists and turns leading the investigators into the black heart of terrorism.

Houseman and Hester Gorse of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation have populated Harstad's earlier works and now plow ahead into strange waters to bring the murders to trial.