Code Sixty-One

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Code Sixty-One is Donald Harstad’s fourth novel featuring Iowa deputy sheriff Carl Houseman, who is called to investigate when his boss’s troubled niece is found dead, an apparent suicide. At first it appears that Edie Younger stabbed herself deeply in the neck and bled to death, but Houseman soon determines that she was murdered.

Edie shared house-sitting duties with five friends in a spectacular country mansion, whose absentee owner visited occasionally with a mysterious man called Daniel Peel. As Peel becomes the focus of Houseman’s investigation, Edie’s friends assure him that Peel is a vampire, has lived for centuries, has superhuman strength, and is energized by drinking blood. Peel’s delayed appearance helps to build suspense throughout the story—how does Peel make intelligent people believe such fantastic things about him?

The novel ends with a “whatever happened to ... ?” section that wraps up several story lines, but still leaves some loose ends dangling. The disappearance of one minor character and murder of another are never explained. Houseman confiscates a cache of videotapes from the mansion but doesn’t view them, probably because the tapes could have made a later, shocking interview with a young witness unnecessary and robbed the narrative of a dramatic twist.

Harstad, who spent twenty-six years as an Iowa deputy sheriff, includes countless authentic details of day-to- day law enforcement. Besides the liberal use of real “ten-codes” (listed in a glossary after the last chapter) an abundance of other police codes, identification numbers and technicalities of police work come up and are briefly explained. The story also rings true in the astonishing number of people and agencies involved in the investigation of a murder.