Book Review : The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

Genre : Fiction, Thriller
Page : 303 pages
Published : 14th October 2014


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?


“What if I was wrong? What if there was no other side. What if, in all the eons of eternity, this was the one and only time that I would be alive. How would I live my life if that were the case?”

Joe Talbert is a 21-year-old boy who had worked and struggled for better life. Living with his alcoholic mother and autistic brother didn’t help much but to grow him to be a very independent soul. Even he is struggling with financial issues, he managed to be a college student with just enough money. Being a college student at University of Minnesota, Joe must complete his writing assignment for his English class. Joe ended up going to a nursing home to write the biography of the elderly who are willing to help. Stating his reason to the nursing home to gain permission for an interview, he was told that the former-cold blooded murderer – Carl Iverson, are recently paroled after serving 30 years of life sentence and currently living in the nursing home to spend his old days.

This debut writing has render me in awe! The plot has its own unique vibe that makes one directly remembers the story line after years of being kept in the shelves. It’s like a whole new thriller since the story are not ordinary and I know the story is going to be very complicated. Joe sets his decision on making Carl his interview subject which surprisingly agreed by Carl himself that calls this as his dying declaration. Joe expects the confession of the killer of how he kill the youthful and pretty Crystal Hagen especially after Carl stated the line “I’ve killed and I’ve murdered, there is a difference.” . However, after sessions and weeks of interview, Carl maintains his innocence and surprisingly, Joe believes him.

And hereby, the English writing assignment turns into murder investigation of a 30-year-old case.

Before Joe, only Virgil Gray – Carl’s wartime buddy and now close friend, who believes Carl has been wrongly convicted. I love how real the plot seems to be. A wrong convicted inmate, people who trusted the convicted as innocence and injustice prevails. Still, the story centres on Joe on how he manage his personal life and how he tries to solve the case together with his neighbour – Lila who are ignorant at first but can’t help to stay put out of her curiosity and interest. Although the story are quite complicated, Joe’s mother and autistic brother – Jeremy are always in the frame. Unlike some thriller out there that focus solely on the case and manage any other issues the main character are facing later on, this book really written in detail and addicting complexity that turns this into a good book. This whole book is thrilling and terrific but never left out Joe’s personal issues.

Personally, there are many lines and paragraph that I loved in the book. There’s this scene about Carl and Joe conversing about the meaning of life:

“What if there was no other side. What if, in all the eons of eternity, this was the one and only time that I would be alive. How would I live my life if that were the case? Know what I mean? What if this was all there is?”

“Well, I guess there’d be a lot of disappointed dead priests,” I said.

Carl chuckled. “Well, there’s that,” he said. “But it also means that this is our heaven. We are surrounded every day by the wonders of life, wonders beyond comprehension that we simply take for granted. I decided that day that I would live my life—not simply exist. If I died and discovered heaven on the other side, well, that’d be just fine and dandy. But if I didn’t live my life as if I was already in heaven, and I died and found only nothingness, well… I would have wasted my life. I would have wasted my one chance in all of history to be alive.”

I just thought those scenes are worth sharing. Kindly reminder of how great life can be even if there are endless obstacles upfront☺

Anyway, the more Joe and Lila dig into the past, the more dangerous the path ahead of them become. The tension accelerates again and again as chapters passed and the book was written efficiently on how Joe give his all to prove Carl innocence once again, racing against the time – which Carl might not possess. With the aids of detective Max Rupert as the case becomes more serious, you will find yourself turning the pages unstoppable.

“That you understand how wrong it is to judge someone before you know their whole story.”

Author : Celine

4 thoughts on “Book Review : The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

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