Pete’s devil women
Framed by Robert Wangard is a fun ride
In Framed, the sixth mystery novel featuring Pete Thorsen, writer Robert Wangard sends his analytical hero on a mission to save his army buddy Jimmy Ray Evans, who has been framed for a murder he didn’t commit.
At his cabin on Lake Michigan, Pete’s meditative mood is trashed by a surprise visit from frenetic Jimmy Ray. His car is a wreck, his clothes rumpled. Pete wonders, is his brain a mess of lies, too?
With barely a “how are you,” Jimmy Ray explodes into small talk about his car Lizzie, named after an old girlfriend who ran a cathouse and worked in Nashville to promote artists.
Jabbering about his Cadillac Deville and the women in his life—while Pete’s favorite song “Devil Woman” blares from the cabin—it’s clear evil women in various guises, bitchy district attorneys, cheating wives, and reluctant girlfriends, will bring both men grief.
Soon, we suspect one of the devil women might be a murderer. Suddenly serious, Jimmy Ray probes: “Did they find the body in the lake?” Pete offers drinks inside the cabin and a change of subject.
Jimmy Ray hammers on. It must have been a mob hit. You should investigate it. Pete demurs.
It is hard to know when Jimmy Ray is telling the truth and it is about to get harder. Pete wants to finish writing about his Norwegian ancestor who fought in the Civil War. Instead, he is forced to act as Jimmy Ray’s attorney when Sheriff Stokes and Deputy Boyle arrive from North Carolina to take Jimmy Ray back for trial.
When Pete discovers that Stokes wants to kill Jimmy Ray, who is having an affair with his wife, Pete accelerates his efforts to save his friend from extradition. The evidence Stokes and Boyle present convinces Pete that Jimmy Ray is being framed by a conspiracy of powerful forces.
Staying calm and focused, when conflicting information threatens to throw him off course, Pete corners the truth. He outsmarts a reluctant female witness, the sheriff’s cheating wife, and in a second interview extracts a key piece of evidence. He uses this evidence to force skeptical Nikki Owen, the female district attorney, to make a deal.
New characters and new information turn the plot, making a clear progression to the climax. The book would perhaps be stronger if the pace was not occasionally dragged down by the inclusion of facts that are not dramatic.
For example, the office of DA Nikki Owen is described as “decorated as nicely as it could be with government-issue furniture.” This is a very lifelike description. But Nikki is an adversary, a devil woman who can doom Jimmy Ray to death, and there is no implied threat in the description of her office, the world she controls. What if Nikki had a lamp fashioned from a stingray carcass and a hammerhead shark mounted on the wall above her T-handled killing spike?
There would be more suspense in several key scenes in Framed if the details had emotional punch.
Still, it’s fun to see the good guy win. Pete frees his friend Jimmy Ray and gladly watches him and his noisy car depart. Pete returns to the concerns of his life, getting his daughter ready for college and a possible romance of his own.
A shadow hangs over Pete’s victory. It looks like one of the drug-dealing conspirators who framed Jimmy Ray is free to move to the top of the heap. And this time, he’ll be dealing with a very smart Devil Man.
Linda Warren has worked as a writer and producer for NBC and ABC affilates. She is a member of Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America. Her screenplay The National Museum of Driftwood won the gold Remi at WorldFest-Houston in 2014. She has a masters in Journalism from American University in Washington, D.C.
This article originally appeared in the July 29, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.