Book review: Wangard’s “Stalked,” an American crime novel
Christine Foster Meloni
Stalked is the fifth in crime-fiction writer Robert Wangard’s series starring Norwegian American Pete Thorsen.
This novel begins with a bang—or rather a thud. Thorsen is relaxing comfortably in his home one evening when he hears a strange noise outside. He opens his front door and sees “a large plastic bag on the stoop with reddish fluid oozing from the opening where the slide closure had popped open.” He finds a note attached with the disturbing question, “Is this what your blood looks like, Pete?”
Thorsen naturally feels threatened, especially when the forensic results determine that the red liquid in the bag is blood. The plot thickens when it is discovered that the blood came from two local alpacas who were murdered, supposedly, to provide the perpetrator with blood for the offensive bag.
The police investigation gets off to a very slow start because the sheriff is not overly fond of Thorsen and is unwilling to get involved with what he believes is a childish prank. He finally comes around when Thorsen’s office is trashed and smeared with blood (a third alpaca is killed) and his daughter receives a threatening note delivered with a switchblade.
Thorsen is not the most likeable guy and has made enemies, both as a lawyer and as a resident of his small Michigan town. He makes up a short list of possible suspects and shares it with the sheriff’s office. He then works pretty much full-time on the case without much assistance. He has difficulty finding evidence to link any of his suspects to the threats, and time drags on. But he becomes more and more convinced that his life is in real danger. Then his stalker makes a few stupid mistakes and immediately becomes Thorsen’s sole focus. The action intensifies as Thorsen closes in. The novel comes to a dramatic climax.
Thorsen is a Norwegian American, but only a few references to his ancestry are dispersed throughout the novel. He uses Thor’s Hammer vodka in his vodka and tonic drink. He has a yellowed photograph of a ship that brought some of his ancestors from Norway. He has a Viking longbow for target practice. He educates a friend about the lack of horns on Viking helmets. And a former colleague calls him “Mr. Viking.” These details are unfortunately not enough to provide real Norwegian flavor.
Wangard says that he is not especially fond of the Nordic crime novels that are so popular today and, therefore, does not try to emulate them. He explains that his focus is “first and foremost, on telling a good story that’s fast paced with interesting characters that have some depth to them.” The Nordic writers, on the other hand, focus less on action and more on a psychological analysis of their characters, both perpetrators and victims, and on a critique of the society in which their characters live.
Although Wangard does not feel a connection with Norwegian crime writers, he does feel one with his Norwegian ancestry. He admits that this was not always the case but he says that now he feels a genuine appreciation of his heritage.
Wangard’s previous novels in this series are Target, Malice (reviewed in NAW, July 6, 2012), Deceit, and Payback. He has also written a book of short stories, Hard Water Blues (reviewed in NAW, August 16, 2011).
Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, DC. She values her Norwegian heritage.
This article originally appeared in the July 10, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.