Until Murder Do Us Part, the freshman novel by Treg Julander, is a fictional case study of the detrimental effects of a lawyer’s failure to achieve work/life balance.
We are quickly plunged into the nightmare of Mike Kingston, our protagonist of the hour, as he runs from a shadowy monster. The dream feels real to Mike, who can feel the forest around him and smell the beast on his heels. As he tumbles off a cliff to his doom, he grabs a root, saving himself for a moment, only to hear the monster getting closer. He wakes up with his hands around his wife’s throat—an allegory that crops up later as she is his safety in times of need.
As we follow Mike from his too-large home filled with the stresses of trying to keep his wife and daughter in the manner to which he would like them to become accustomed to the halls of his Washington, DC K Street law firm, it is clear that he suffers dismally from the anxiety and the pressures of modern life. Although he achieves career success, his relationships with his wife and daughter suffer; he attempts to make up for his long hours with a lifestyle that he thinks they deserve.
When his wife is discovered murdered, the wakeup call for him has little to do with the suspicion cast upon him and more to do with a reprioritization of what is of value to him. He walks away from his job, taking his daughter with him to the small town he grew up in. The remainder of the book is a celebration of simple things in life.
Women are often told we can “have it all” but Until Murder Do Us Part reminds its readers that everyone makes decisions in their lives about what is important. Kingston’s struggle is a pendulum from long hours in the office to spending all his time with his daughter and mother; near the end, he comes close to achieving balance, but makes the reader wonder if it’s possible for anyone.
The characters are a bit cardboard, from the attractive secretary who flirts with all the lawyers to the father-in-law who thinks no one is good enough for his daughter (and the incompetent female prosecutor with a hidden grudge). The mystery is a little thin—it’s clear from just before the murder whodunit—but as a cautionary tale and reminder to reevaluate priorities, it’s worth the read. The most refreshing part of the book is in the very few courtroom scenes: it gets the law right.