Denby Jullsen, Hughenden
The story begins with the reported murder of Hughenden resident and eldest Jullsen brother Denby. His body is found propped up in the backseat of an abandoned vehicle. From there, the story goes back in time to the wedding of the middle brother Cully Jullsen.
The tale follows the Jullsen family through its up and downs including suspected infidelity and murder; jail sentences and drunken antics; family dinners and picnics in the shade. Babies are born and some souls are saved while others are arguably lost. The winding path finally leads back to the death of Denby Jullsen as the reader discovers the answer to the mystery.
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Here’s the seed of truth that inspired me to write Denby Jullsen, Hughenden.
In late December of 1957, the body of my great uncle Erwin Knutson was found in an abandoned automobile outside of Wetaskiwin, Alberta on the Canadian prairies. He was in his late 40s. His pockets were empty except for a slip of paper that read Erwin Knutson, Hughenden. This little piece of paper identified my great uncle and allowed authorities to contact his family back in Hughenden.
My dad told me his own story of driving out to the Hughenden cemetery from Czar, down the highway from the village of Hughenden. He was with his father, my grandfather Clifford Knutson, delivering the “rough box” to line and stabilize the interior of Erwin’s grave.
We don’t know for certain what happened to Erwin. The family suspects foul play because his pockets were empty. Ever since hearing his tragic story as a kid, I wanted to solve the mystery of Erwin’s death. That’s why Denby Jullsen was born only to die 22 years earlier than Erwin Knutson.
Some of the settings in the novel are historical. Birdie Jullsen’s (Denby’s mother’s) house was great Grandma Knutson’s house. It’s still here in Hughenden. Czar Lake is Shorncliffe Lake. The hotel and train station, both now long gone, are situated in the novel where they were in Hughenden and typically in every little prairie town. The house on Hughenden Lake was moved into town many years ago, but while it still stood by the lake, it was the first home of my grandparents after they were married in 1933.
Most other details in the novel are the products of this writer’s imagination.
Lori Knutson’s novel takes an intriguing look into a rural east-central Alberta village during the Depression and the suspicious death that occurs there. Knutson spins a web of mystery as we all try to learn just what happened to Denby Jullsen. The story is filled with lively characters and even the town plays its part in this sexy and violent novel.
~Kelly Clemmer, co-author 13 Ways to Kill Your Community and former Editor-in-Chief of Star News Inc.