Book Review: The Life We Bury

So, maybe I wanted to read this book all in one sitting.

51a4kko7qzl-_sx330_bo1204203200_.jpgWhile I may have wanted to, I don’t have that kind of free time. I had added Allen Eskens’ debut novel to my book list at the beginning of the year, but truth be told, I kept putting off reading it. I was convinced that it would be depressing and scared that it would be a disappointing read.

I’m a huge fan of mysteries and thrillers, but have grown a little tired of the genre. Crime procedurals hold little appeal for me these days, and many mysteries are full of violence, language and crimes that are presented luridly. I was afraid The Life We Bury would fall into these traps.

I was wrong on all accounts.

The Life We Bury is the story of Joe Talbert, a college freshmen from a tough family situation who has worked to pay his own way to college. In his first semester, he tackles an assignment to write a biography of someone. After procrastinating for awhile, Joe finally settles on Carl Iverson, a convicted rapist and murderer now released to a nearby nursing home where he is dying of cancer.

As Joe begins to work on the assignment, his discussions with Carl and his friends begins to reveal someone different from the cold killer Joe had imagined. A Vietnam veteran honored for his heroism, the Carl Joe comes to know doesn’t seem to match up with the villain Carl had been described as during his trial. Joe, with the help of his new girlfriend, begins to unravel the mystery and uncover the truth, resulting in an exciting few chapters toward the end of the book—which I won’t spoil here.

But The Life We Bury isn’t just a whodunit. Instead, it’s just a good story with well-rounded characters with back stories and deep emotions and intricate personalities. In a word, the characters are just real. These are not cardboard characters who are only devices to move the plot along, but complex creatures with their own flaws and foibles. Joe’s relationship with his autistic brother, woven through with deep love and devotion, guilt and frustration, is particularly striking. As the aunt of an autistic child, I often found myself drawn into their interactions.

I’d recommend the book to anyone looking for a good mystery that isn’t full of foul language, sex scenes and lurid crimes. There are some undoubtedly tough topics in the book, but they aren’t the centerpiece, nor are they dwelled upon. All details are used to add to and move the story forward.

While I do think that at times, Eskens was a little enamored with his own prose, resulting in descriptive paragraphs with a touch too much description, that’s really one of the only negatives I can point to. Eskens is incredibly talented at dialogue, which generally felt very genuine and realistic.

All in all, The Life We Bury was a great read to start off the summer. I hope the rest of the books on my list will be as good!

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