Eleven Days by Donald Harstad
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Extremely brutal murders. Gruesome dismemberment. Torture to death. Satanic cult. Black Mass. Bisexual orgies. Now that I hopefully caught your attention, let's talk seriously about Donald Harstad's "Eleven Days". Yes, the book contains descriptions of the items I mentioned in the first two lines of this review, but it absolutely does not cater to a reader seeking morbid or otherwise unusual thrills. In fact, such a reader will most likely be very disappointed with "Eleven Days", mainly because the author does a great job in focusing the text on the process of finding the truth rather than dazzling the reader with the morbid, perverse or otherwise juicy topics like so many other authors do (and the list of the guilty includes some of the biggest names in detective fiction).
I have been careful in using the terms 'book' and 'text' rather than 'novel'. I do not think "Eleven Days" may be called a novel. It is, basically, a cross between an extended (and well-written) police report and a detective's diary. Mr. Harstad has consciously eliminated most of the usual literary devices from his writing, and the text of his book reads like a case file, with occasional mentions about what the detectives eat and drink. The book does not belong to the "true crime" genre (although it has been "inspired by actual events"), but I find it much truer than many "true crime" books, simply because their authors tend to try too hard to dress up their prose with fancy literary constructs that only prove pretentious, while Mr. Harstad mostly succeeds in freeing his writing from anything else than reporting the facts.
Carl Houseman is a sheriff's deputy in a rural Iowa county. He is working on solving the gruesome, satanic murders that have happened in the corn-growing heartland of the U.S., rather than in traditional "dens of depravity", like San Francisco or New York. We meet all his co-workers, and I find their portrayals and the descriptions of their work utterly believable. This is not surprising as Mr. Harstad used to work himself for the sheriff's office in an Iowa county for 26 years.
The extremely bad things that people do to other people are shown here with clinical detachment. This detachment provides a much more chilling picture than the usual hysterical fascination with the subject of evil, so typical for 90% of detective prose authors. Despite the generally gruesome subject, there is a lot of humor in the book. One character talks how "poor Satan had been given a bum rap." And if you want to know what potential complications in lineup are caused by the one identifying characteristic of the perpetrator, or if you want to know what was ground in the blender, read the book!
Great read! Ultimate police procedural, even more so than the same author's "Known Dead", which I have recently reviewed here. I am unable to give five stars to a text that is not really a work of literature, so my rating is
Four and a half stars.
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