Monday, April 8, 2019

“Hard, wind-scraped Wyoming”

Review of Ron Franscell’s Alice & Gerald: A Homicidal Love Story
by Robert A. Waters

Dreams come to Wyoming to die.  At least, that’s what happened to Claire Martin when her daughter, Virginia, and grandsons, Richard, 11, and Reagan, 10, vanished.  The trio had scheduled a bird hunting trip with Virginia’s former husband, Gerald Uden, but he claimed they never showed up.  A month later, Claire’s car, which Virginia had driven to the meeting, was found hidden in a ravine part-way down a cliff. 

From that day, Claire Martin’s heart died.

For decades, Claire fought with local and state authorities, urging them to search harder for her missing family.  And for decades, she longed to see Gerald arrested.  It didn’t happen during her lifetime.  Before her death at 90, Claire wrote a touching letter to her grandchildren (in case they ever returned home), expressing her love for them and their mother. 

Finally, in 2013, thirty-nine years after the disappearance and years after Claire’s death, Gerald Uden confessed to the murders.  Even though his wife, Alice, was suspected of being an accomplice, he refused to implicate her.  For his heartless, brutal crime, Gerald received a life sentence.

Alice, convicted of murdering one of her former husbands and dumping his body in an abandoned gold mine, was also sentenced to life in prison.

Ron Franscell is among the elite in true crime writing.  In addition to a gripping story with many bizarre twists, Alice & Gerald is a story of place, of lonesome highways and long-gone memories.

Ron told me that “in Alice & Gerald, place plays kind of a conspiratorial role.  It is, in my mind, a distinct character that aids and abets evil by giving these bad guys a place to hide their behavior and their victims.  So I wanted to bring Wyoming to vivid life, as I might for any pivotal human character.

“Wyoming is my heart-earth.  In summers I worked construction and in the oilfields with the kinds of people in the kinds of places I describe.  I know the landscape and the mindscape intimately.  It’s not only a metaphor for challenge and loneliness, but it’s also as mythic as the West’s history and as real as a rattlesnake.

“Out here, the landscape shapes us as much as we shape it.  No Manhattanite who thinks Cleveland is rural understands the endless emptiness that starts at the end of every Wyoming town’s main street…”

Ron Franscell was an Edgar Award finalist last year.  This year, Alice & Gerald should win the grand prize.