Thursday, October 20, 2016

Review of The Life We Bury by Allen Eskins (Seventh Street Books, 2014)

For his English class Joe Talbert needs to write the biography of a stranger.  Seeking a suitable person he visits a nursing home where he’s introduced to Carl Iverson.  Iverson is a Vietnam vet and convicted murderer and rapist who has been medically paroled from prison due to his terminal cancer.  The dying man’s friend insists that Iverson was wrongly convicted and having retrieved the old case files Joe starts to have doubts as well.  Enrolling the help of his neighbour, Lila, Joe becomes determined to find out the truth of who raped and killed Crystal Hagen, a sixteen year old girl, thirty years previously before Iverson dies.  However, he’s hampered in his efforts by having to deal with his alcoholic mother and her new lover, look after his autistic brother, and by his naivety in pursuing certain lines of inquiry.
The Life We Bury charts the efforts of college student Joe Talbert to investigate whether justice was served in a thirty year old case in which a teenage girl is raped and murdered. The man convicted of Crystal Hagen’s death, Carl Iverson, is a Vietnam vet who admits to both killing and murdering people, but insists they were in Vietnam not Minnesota.  Iverson is dying of cancer with a couple of months to live and has promised to answer Joe’s questions truthfully, though his answers do not tally with the trial record.  This premise provides a compelling hook for Eskins tale, which explores themes of innocence, justice and responsibility.  There is a strong sense of realism in the troubled lives of Talbert and Iverson, both of whom have skeletons in their closets.  The familial relations of Talbert, with his alcoholic mother, autistic brother, and awkward fledgling relationship with his neighbour, Lila, are particular nicely done.  The only aspect that felt a little forced was Talbert’s naivety in his investigation where he sleepwalks his way into danger not just once, but twice, though his actions serve to raise the menace and tension in the narrative.  Nonetheless, The Life We Bury is an engaging, thoughtful and suspenseful literary crime tale.

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