Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Book Review: "The Life We Bury" by Allen Eskens

 The Life We Bury Allen Eskens
Dated Finished: December 10, 2017
Date Published: October 14, 2014
ISBN: 9781616149987
Genre: Thriller
Source: Book Club
Highly Recommended

You might enjoy this book if you like: Crime fiction, slightly gory thrillers, Netflix's Making a Murderer

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.

Carl 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 as he and Lila dig deeper into the circumstances of the crime, the stakes grow higher. Will Joe discover the truth before it’s too late to escape the fallout?

My Thoughts:
As you can probably tell from the synopsis of this novel, there is some pretty dark subject matter in play here.  I understand how that might turn some readers off, and there are definitely a few tough passages in this book, but this is a surprisingly beautiful novel.

The premise of the book is simple, but also believable.  Sometimes, thrillers lose me at the get-go because the set up is so manufactured, but this is not the case here.  I can totally buy a kid walking into a nursing home to find someone to talk to and being directed to "that" resident.  I also found Joe stepping into Carl's case to make sense for the character Joe was.  "Citizen detectives" are hard to sell, but Joe is one of the successful ones.

Even though the story centers around Carl's case, Joe is the star of the novel--and he's just the kind of character that resonates with me.  He has too much going on in his life, but he's also a typical college kid--completely with a crush on the girl next door.  You immediately root for him and Eskens does an expert job writing Joe so that we acutely feel the stress that he is put under as the novel progresses.

The key to a good thriller, to me, is pacing and this book has that down.  Too many times, I've found myself mired in too-long chapters in thrillers, but Eskens structures his book perfectly.  The chapters are never too long, and they become shorter as the tension increases.  Honestly, the shorter chapters actually make the book harder to put down.

Yes, there are some tough passages in this book, but I didn't feel that any were overly salacious.  This is a crime novel and some boundaries do need to push.  Eskens pushed those boundaries just as far as they needed to go, and that is part of why this book worked so hard for me.

It is hard for me to go too much further into the review, because I don't want to spoil anything (instead, I want you all to read it!), but trust me when I say that this is one of the best thrillers I've read. It is sophisticated enough for those well-versed in crime fiction, but still accessible for those who do not normally read these sorts of books.  I would encourage everyone to give this book a try, I doubt that you'll be disappointed!

I was not solicited for this review and I received no compensation for this post.

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