He’s got the blues

Robert Wangard's second book is a collection of short stories with a Scandinavian crime fiction flair.

Robert Wangard's second book is a collection of short stories with a Scandinavian crime fiction flair.

From the pen of Robert Wangard, author of Target, comes a collection of harrowing stories entitled Hard Water Blues. Just as Target did, these stories seem to channel the haunting genre of crime fiction that is so popular in Scandinavia at the moment: authors like Norwegian Jo Nesbø and the late Swedish Steig Larsson come to mind.

Not only does the genre ring of Scandinavia, but the protagonist from Target, Pete Thorsen, appears in about half of the stories in Hard Water Blues. Pete Thorsen has a strong Norwegian background and is proud of it, and it shows up in several of the stories, especially one entitled “Leif Erikson’s Ghost.” In this story, a vicious crime seems to leave hints of ancient Viking ghosts. In other stories, something as simple as Pete’s favorite brand of vodka (a Swedish variety, Thor’s Hammer, in “Fats is Dead”) or how he decorates his office (an old Viking battle axe hangs on the wall in “Fly Like a Bird”) are constant reminders of the way heritage can affect day-to-day life.

Hard Water Blues doesn’t stand alone completely,” Wangard said in an interview that appears on his website, referring to the book as a “semi-sequel” to Target. “Harry McTigue is in some of the stories as well,” he said of one of the other main characters from his previous novel.

A Midwestern setting figures heavily in many of the stories in Wangard’s anthology; the title, Hard Water Blues, comes not from the idea of mineral-rich water but rather from the frozen-solid lake in one of the stories. Robert Wangard, like his protagonist, was born into a Norwegian-American family on both sides and grew up in rural Wisconsin. “When our relatives came to visit us in northern Wisconsin, I remember the older men sitting around and telling stories,” said Wangard. “In retrospect, that experience always stuck with me and I credit it in part with my love of writing fiction.” He currently divides his time between a suburb of Chicago and Crystal Lake in northwest Michigan. Wangard had a successful career as a lawyer in Chicago, a characteristic he also shares with Pete Thorsen, but one day he decided to sign up for a fiction writing class, and he knew right away he was hooked. He has now left his life as a lawyer behind—except when he draws on his experiences for Pete’s character—and writes full-time. He is working on his third book, Malice, forthcoming in 2012, which also features Pete’s Norwegian heritage as a backdrop to the story. The first chapter is included in Hard Water Blues. “I didn’t completely stop writing short stories while I was learning the nuts and bolts of novel writing,” said Wangard on his website. “I frequently have two works going at the same time. By the time I was into my second novel, I had a collection of short stories that I decided to publish as an anthology.”

Other stories in Hard Water Blues include “The Novelty of Deceit,” in which a successful businessman receives some suspicious emails that lead to an unwelcome visit from someone in his past; “The Night They Closed Baker’s Bar,” in which a hapless soul disenchanted with his life finds more excitement that he bargained for; and “Dominic’s Art” in which a private Norwegian-American investigator is confronted with corruption at an art gallery. Several other stories also feature Pete Thorsen and occasionally his friend Harry McTigue.

Hard Water Blues is an exciting read, with each story introducing complicated and sometimes tragic new characters and ending in what is often a much unexpected twist. The book’s summary is apt in declaring “Hard Water Blues will make you laugh, cry, and double-check your windows and doors!”

This article was originally published in the Aug. 19, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. For more information about the Norwegian American Weekly or to subscribe, call us toll free (800) 305-0217 or email subscribe@norway.com.

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