Attorney turned novelist writes about murder

Book explores the bounds of friendship and perception

By Cynthia Price
Legal News

William Jack, a civil litigator married to a judge from New Mexico, has written “Journey’s End” about Will Bennett, a civil litigator married to a judge from New Mexico.
And there the resemblance pretty much ends.

As the well-known and well-respected, award-winning attorney from Smith, Haughey, Rice, and Roegge in Grand Rapids wrote his first mystery novel, he says, his characters took on “their own personas.

He adds, “In the second book, they very clearly are their own characters.”

Those who have read or are about to read “Journey’s End” will be pleased to hear that phrase, “in the second book,” because the novel is an interesting, satisfying read that leaves the audience wanting more.

According to Jack, the story sprang completely from his imagination. “The plot evolved as the book went on,” he says, “When I started, I wasn’t exactly certain how it was going to end.”

He knew that he wanted to write about a deep friendship between two men, and that its locales would be places he knew well — portions of it take place in West Michigan. Writing the book took a number of years and Jack revised it as the plot line took him in different directions.

It is hard to discuss “Journey’s End” without risking “spoilers,” but since it happens very early on, it is probably not giving away too much to say that protagonist Bennett’s beloved law school friend, Sam Greenberg, is suspected of murdering his wife. The book is an intriguing exploration of the different levels of knowing another person. As Bennett finds out more and more about Greenberg, with whom he is still close after four decades, he discovers perspectives from people who view Greenberg in very different, sometimes opposing, ways.

Are any of the points of view, including Bennett’s own, completely correct? How much can people rely on their instincts about others? How can someone who cares about a friend figure out who has the motivation to lie?

Bennett struggles with all of these questions, and to William Jack’s credit, comes to no easy conclusions. At one point, confronted with the most outlandish example of someone whose impression of Greenberg is very negative, Bennett tells someone else, “He believed what his filter told him to believe. I have known Sam Greenberg for thirty plus years... For whatever reason, Silver’s filter is way out of sync with my take.” When asked why, he confesses in bewilderment that he has not a clue.

One intriguing, though under-played, theme concerns the contrast of another friendship Bennett develops over the course of the book, with the detective who is investigating the Greenberg case. Bennett and Robert Davison are natural adversaries, but the rapport that draws them, and eventually Bennett’s wife Alexandra Kennedy, closer in friendship leads to a resolution and a kind of peace. Though Bennett’s exploration changes him, there are no lightning-bolt transformations or 360-degree turnarounds.
Along the way there are some twists and turns and even shocks, but all that is necessary to find out more is to purchase “Journey’s End” from Schuler Books, whose Chapbook Press publishes it.

It is clear that Bennett, though he could be described superficially as like the author, is not just like William Jack. Take Bennett’s colorful language, for example. Jack comments, “I personally don’t use a lot of profanity — so I just don’t know where that came from.”

The character has a refreshing ease about the physical side of relationships, and is matter-of-fact about the seamier side of the human character without condoning it.

Bennett and some of the other characters, including Davison, will be back in Jack’s second novel, which he has written but is now editing and revising. He promises more character development, and now says he is playing with the idea of using the same cast of characters for novels he writes in the future, “like the Spenser novels by Robert Parker,” he notes.

Jack’s wife Rebecca designed the attractive cover for the book, graphicating the photo of a man at Lake Michigan, and Jack says she also was responsible for prodding him to finish. “She would say, ‘Those characters are over there on the couch and they’ve been waiting for you.’”

He credits Smith Haughey software and training specialist Debbie TenBrink with great assistance shaping the novel, as well as reviewing the second one under construction, which has taken a lot less time than the first.

Jack also credits the turn his career has taken for allowing him more writing time. “My practice now is exclusively mediation and arbitration,” he says. “That’s been great because, as opposed to the day-to-day litigation practice, I have a little more control over my schedule and I don’t need to be in the office as much.”

He is quick to add, though, that he has no intention of quitting his day job and that he finds the mediation practice highly satisfying. He concentrates on civil mediation, and the occasional probate case, working all around the state.

Though this is a change from Jack’s highly successful career as a litigator, which earned him the state’s Respected Advocate award in 2009 among many other honors, his career-long attention to professionalism and civility are indications that mediation would be a good fit.

As far as promoting the book, which came out a year ago, Jack says he has done almost nothing. He did appear on a “lawyer fiction” panel at Cooley Law School’s Grand Rapids Campus in June, along with fellow novelists Associate Dean Nelson Miller and Adjunct Professor Anna Rapa. But, in order to spend a lot of time on PR for his writing, Jack says with a grin, “You’d have to start taking yourself seriously.”

But even now, the idea for his third book is running through his head.