Monday, August 10, 2015

Review: The Life We Bury

Summary: College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe's life is ever the same.

Iverson is a dying Vietnam veteran-and a convicted murderer. With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to a nursing home, after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder.

As Joe writes about Carl's life, especially Carl's valor in Vietnam, he cannot reconcile the heroism of the soldier with the despicable acts of the convict. Joe, along with his skeptical female neighbor, throws himself into uncovering the truth, but he is hamstrung in his efforts by having to deal with his dangerously dysfunctional mother, the guilt of leaving his autistic brother vulnerable, and a haunting childhood memory.

Thread by thread, Joe unravels the tapestry of Carl's conviction. But by the time Joe discovers the truth, it is too late to escape the fallout. -- Seventh Street Books

After reading and enjoying LITTLE PRETTY THINGS by Lori Rader-Day a few weeks ago -- you can read my review here, I decided to try another book from the publisher Seventh Street Books. This one is called THE LIFE WE BURY by Allen Eskens, and I think I enjoyed it even more than LITTLE PRETTY THINGS... which is really saying something. This novel received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, and it's an Edgar Award Nominee for Best First Novel.

THE LIFE WE BURY is about Joe Talbert, a college student who has an interesting writing assignment for his English class. He is supposed to interview someone he doesn't know and then write his story. Joe decides to visit the local nursing home and ends up interviewing Carl Iverson. Carl has quite the story!

Carl is a Vietnam Vet who has been found guilty of the murder and rape of a young girl. He has been incarcerated for 30 years and has only been released to a nursing home for his final weeks. He is dying of cancer and wants to tell his story to Joe.

As Joe learns about Carl's heroic time in Vietnam, he finds it hard to believe that this is the same man who brutally raped and murdered a young girl. After talking with Joe's only friend, he's pretty sure that there's more to the story. Joe and his attractive female neighbor decide to pursue the truth. Along the way, they receive some help from an unlikely source -- Joe's autistic brother. Along with Joe's writing assignment and potential romance, he has taken in his brother after one too many incidents/arrests of their alcoholic mother. But that's a whole other story!

I absolutely adored THE LIFE WE BURY and I couldn't put it down. I doubt I can convey to you how much that speaks to this novel since I've been in a bit of a reading slump lately. I appreciated the characters (I kind of loved Joe!), and I thought the pace of the story was outstanding. I honestly was intrigued with Carl's story from the moment I "met" him, and I loved the twists and turns of the mystery aspect of the novel.

Joe was a fantastic character. He's a survivor and desperately tries to make the best of his awful situation. He is an extremely hard worker, and I loved that he tried to do the right thing. When he took in his autistic brother, at the expense of having to give up college, I was so impressed. I found myself rooting for him, especially as it concerned getting the attention of his female neighbor. I couldn't figure out how she could play hard to get -- he was so sweet!

I appreciated Joe even more when he started to learn Carl's story. He could have easily gone through the motions of writing a paper for his class and never gave Carl another thought. Heck! Carl only had weeks to live. Rather, he wanted to find out the truth and clear Carl's name... even if it meant that he (or those he loved) could be in danger. Joe was an unlikely hero but one that I would love to see again! (Good news: There's a followup novel to THE LIFE WE BURY!)

One of my favorite parts of this novel was that Joe's autistic brother cracked the case. Joe had gathered a lot of documents, including the victim's diary; and the victim had coded entries in the days leading up to her murder. Neither the police nor Joe were able to figure out the code, but Joe's brother was. I loved that he helped play a role in solving the case!

As far as mysteries go, I had a few clues along the way and wasn't totally shocked about the true culprit. Having said that, I don't think I was particular astute when it came to seeing the truth. I had my doubts and even changed my mind a few times. So even though I said I wasn't surprised, I couldn't have sworn that my suspicions were all that accurate. What I can say though, is that the mystery was complex (with a pretty good twist) and I thought the ending was satisfying.

Overall, I really liked THE LIFE WE BURY and can't wait for Mr. Eskens' next novel. I highly recommend this book to fans of mysteries!

Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books that you've read. Mystery Mondays is a regular feature where I review all types of mystery books -- traditional mysteries, suspense/thrillers, and even cozies! Please feel free to share your thoughts on any recent mystery books t


Carol said...

Okay, you may have convinced me. It sounds really good and I'm a bit curious of why Joe feels the need to do so much more than just write his story and move on.

Kay said...

Yes, I've heard more good things about this book. Looking forward to reading it. I have a copy right on the shelf behind me. :-)

bermudaonion said...

Wow, you've made that sound so good!

Beth F said...

Now *I* want to meet Joe. :)