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Code 61    by Donald Harstad order for
Code 61
by Donald Harstad
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2003 (2002)
Hardcover, Paperback, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by G. Hall

Donald Harstad's Code 61 is a timely treat for readers during this Halloween season. Harstad has written several previous mysteries set in rural Iowa and featuring deputy sheriff Carl Houseman. Carl is an enjoyably down to earth character - middle-aged, somewhat overweight and not as fit as he'd like to be. Many of his baby-boomer readers will be able to empathize with him.

It is autumn in his small town, where murders occur only infrequently. But now Carl and his team have been called to a mysterious large mansion where a young woman has died a bloody death. At first it looks like a suicide, but as the forensic evidence is collected it becomes clear it was murder. The mansion residents are an odd crew indeed, all young people who have fallen on hard times and share a surprising loyalty to a strange character named Dan Peale, whom they claim is a vampire. Then a vampire hunter shows up in town!

All this is a bit much for Carl. After all, this is the Mid-West, not Anne Rice's Lousiana country. So he and Hester Gorse, a very capable state agent, doggedly work through the crimes, trying to find a solution that does not involve the supernatural. Along the way, they encounter a variety of well-drawn characters and learn more than they care to about the sexual practices of young people involved with 'vampires'.

Code 61 takes its name from the police radio code that requires officers to practice 'radio silence' to avoid alarming the locals. Various radio codes are used throughout the book, with a glossary at the end. The author was formerly a deputy sheriff in Iowa and the realism he brings to policing details adds depth to his mysteries.

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