Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

This novel was chosen for our August book club meeting. There are a number of threads
that come together in this novel. There is mystery, murder, a romantic involvement, empathy for an autistic person, and righting a wrong. 
Joe Talbert is a struggling college student who must right a biography of a hero for a class. He travels to Hillview Nursing Home to pick his subject. Suggested by the receptionist and director of the nursing home, he meets with Carl Iverson. Carl has recently been moved from prison to the nursing home because he is suffering from terminal pancreatic cancer. As they were becoming acquainted, Joe receives a phone call from his mother, who has an alcohol problem. She is in the process of being arrested and needs Joe to drive the 2 hours to come get his brother, Jeremy, who is autistic and needs to be in someone's care. This sets up the struggle that tears at Joe - his college career and his devotion to his brother. When he brings Jeremy to his house, he meets Lila, who seems to understand the needs of and his able to communicate with Jeremy.

Iverson had been in prison for 30 years, convicted of the rape and murder of Crystal Hagen, his next door neighbor. As Joe begins to interview him and hear his denial of guilt, Joe becomes convinced that he may actually be innocent of the crime. Enlisting the aid of Lila, the two set out on a course to delve deeper into the facts surround the crime. They manage, with the help of a professor, to obtain copies of the trial transcripts and evidence. In the evidence they find Crystal's diary, part of which was written in code. They deduce that the code is the key to the murder and set about to decode it, something that was never done during the trial. 

Throughout the novel much is revealed about the secrets and guilt that each of the characters carries with them. Iverson reveals what happened in Viet Nam, Lila discloses parts of her lurid past, and Joe, recounts the details of his grandfather's death. Each one of these revelations has been buried in their past, giving meaning on a philosophical level to the title of the book and substantiating the theme of guilt and second chances . 

To be able to prove Carl's innocence before he dies, Lila and Joe embark on a dangerous and risky journey that puts their lives in peril. This hazardous course proves to be the crux and climax of the novel. They enlist the aid of police detective Max Rupert, the central figure in a number of Eskens books.

The Life We Bury a fast-paced and satisfying read and with its premise of rape and murder, was also a disturbing one. The reader is drawn in quickly and follows the characters to the resolution of the mystery.

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