Friday , March 27, 2015 - 12:00 AM
Top of Utah native Treg Julander, a lawyer of more than 20 years experience, and the son of retired Weber State University political science Professor Rod Julander, recently published a novel, “Until Murder Do Us Part,” (Parables) that seems like two novellas fitted into a novel. The first is a better-than-average legal thriller mystery set in Washington D.C. in which rising blue-chip attorney Mike Kingston is thrust into chaos when his wife, Helen, dies in bed, smothered to death. Mike, who has a history of sleepwalking and violence, is charged by prosecutors with her murder. Working with his firm, his lawyers prepare a defense while he ponders the possibility he did kill his wife in his sleep and tries to keep life stable for his toddler daughter, Victoria.
This part of the novel flows very well and has a strong reader payoff when Mike is exonerated at the preliminary hearing. At that point, Mike worn out and depressed over the past several months of fear and uncertainty, packs his daughter and returns to his hometown of Plain City, Utah, to live with his mother while he decides to sort out his life. This second “novella” is where “Until Murder Do Us Part” suffers badly.
With the opening 100 or so pages, Julander has created an entertaining, in a Scott Turow type of way, legal mystery. One strong scene has Mike’s lawyers discussing the various pros and cons of a sleepwalking defense in his murder case. Another strong subplot involves Mike and his firm suing a toy manufacturer. Mike Kingston is a well-developed character. Others are not as well fleshed out and scores of pages could be added to get better acquainted with Mike’s slain wife, Helen, his colleague and best friend Craig Stone, a firm receptionist, Diane Stratton, who Mike seems to be attracted to, as well as a prosecutor, two persistent detectives, and other characters, including Mike’s in laws and mother.
Instead, when Mike and his daughter return to Plain City, the book’s energy ceases. More than a year passes while Mike “finds himself,” raises Victoria, and re-bonds with his mother. He also gets acquainted with a string of stereotypical characters and has uninteresting adventures that include a flirtation with an old girlfriend, minor disputes with her ex, times at the LDS ward house, football-watching with an old buddy, deep talks with his mom, quality time with his daughter, a “humbling” low-paying job that conveniently leads to a much-better job, Christmas celebrations, and so on. The eventual introduction, and relationship with, a character from his D.C. days pumps a little bit of life into the now virtually stalled novel.
This leads to a climax, still taking place in Plain City, that is rather clever, and has a twist that will surprise reader. But after scores of pages that focus on mundane life in Plain City, with the occasional tidbit-passage from Washington D.C. characters, the reader will be hard-pressed to care that the novel’s strong early scenes are finally reaching a conclusion.
In decades of reviewing books, I don’t think I have ever encountered a novel that changed tone and pace so abruptly as Julander’s did. It’s a risky gambit, and it didn’t work.
Treg Julander shows promise as a legal fiction writer. “Until Murder Do Us Part” needs an extensive rewrite. The Utah scenes should be taken out and 100 to 200 pages added to develop characters, provide more legal scenes for general readers, expand on the sinister character of Mike’s rich, hated father in law, and include the clever ending ... but keep it all in Washington D.C.
Those interested can purchase the novel for $2.99 at Smashwords. The novel is available through Amazon and Apple and has both a website and Facebook page. Julander also blogs at http://www.tregjulander.com/blog.
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