Friday, March 27, 2009
They're dying like flies in Iowa
"Known Dead" by Donald Harstad, 1999.
Deputy Sheriff Carl Houseman is conducting surveillance on a marijuana patch at a state park, in hope of finding the people who were culitvating the marijuana.
It's a routine job but suddenly something goes terribly wrong, shots are fired and officer Bill Kellerman and a doper are killed. Houseman is assigned to a task force to find the killers.
A witness tells Houseman that he had seen men in military camaflogue outfits with automatic weapons, the witness thought the shooters were government employees.
The investigators discover ammunition boxes showing markings from outside the country. They decide to interview farmers in the area of the crime. Officer Ridgeway is assigned to serve papers on Herman Stritch, who is a leader of a local militia group. Stritch is behind on his bills and thinks that the law enforcement people are coming to evict him and someone in his home opens up on Ridgeway, wounding him and killing his associate.
When reinforcements arrive and surround the home, Herman's daughter in law, Melissa escapes with her baby and tells the police that her husband Bill and a group of militia had been training in the park in the day of the killings. Houseman talks Herman and his family into surrendering but when they do, two members of the militia group escape through the back door.
Harstad writes a good story without much extraneous details. From the lack of descriptive elements and concentration on the narrative plot, the author appears influenced by Elmore Leonard.
There is also a Bernie Madoff type poncy scheme. Melissa reveals that Herman and many of the other members of the melitia are being advised financially by a person named Wilford Jeschonek who has recommended that they take loans out on their farms and buy shares in gold from a bank in South America, promising a return in 15 years of ten times the face value. Houseman advises Melissa that these schemes are common and still people are gullible enough to believe their promises.
Without disclosing the plot, the later section of the story tells that the militia has something up their sleeve. Houseman and DCI Agent Hester Gorse lead the search for those in charge. They find that the head of the militia and Herman Stritch's wife have a thing for each other and Houseman uses that information to his advantage.
It is an enjoyable read and recommended.