A great escape: The Life We Bury (review)

The Life We  Bury (Edelweiss DRC)
Allen Eskens
Seventh Street Books

I usually pass over mystery or crime novels–but something in the blurb for this title pulled me in. It could have been that the main character, Joe Talbot, was an English major . It could have been the mention of his autistic brother. Or it could have been the convicted murderer living out his last days in a nursing home. But whatever drew my attention, The Life We Bury was a good read.

life we buryJoe Talbot has finally escaped–his alcoholic mom, his needy autistic brother, and the small town where they lived: Austin, Minnesota, home of Spam. (And that sad fact pretty much sums up Joe’s dismal life.)  He had managed to save enough money for a year at the University of Minnesota and he was out of there. Joe didn’t even allow himself  to dwell on the guilt of abandoning his brother Jeremy. It was either leave or stay forever and drown in bitterness.

But escapes are rarely as easy as they seem in the planning, and Joe’s was no different. No sooner had he started classes than his mother called. From jail. Drunk. And needing him to bail her out and  care for Jeremy, who, at eighteen, was really no more than a five-year-old. Walking in the door and finding Jeremy glued to his current movie obsession Pirates of the Caribbean, Joe makes a snap decision–he’d take Jeremy back to his apartment in Minneapolis.

Carl Iverson had also made an escape of sorts. Convicted of the murder of a 14-year-old neighbor girl, he had done his time, released to a nursing home only because pancreatic cancer would soon kill him. (Not much of an escape if you ask me.)  Joe meets Carl to interview him for a project for a creative writing class. Carl wants to die with a clean conscience–he tells Joe he wants to finally tell the truth. And that’s when the novel starts gathering momentum.

Joe gets the case files, talks to the public defender, pours over old newspaper articles about the trial. He looks up  the victim’s step-brother. He meets Carl’s good friend Virgil who vehemently claims Carl’s innocence. And Joe is hooked.

Of course there’s a girl involved and before long they join forces to prove Carl’s innocence. The only question is … who’s the real killer? And that, crime novel aficionados will realize, results in a chase, a missed clue, and another escape.

Being a Great Lakes midwesterner, I love novels set in my ‘country’. Writer Allen Eskens lives in Minnesota where he practiced law before turning to writing. Eskens captures the decency that (I think) only natives understand. (My bookstore friend also read it and you can read her review here.) The Life We Bury would be a great gift this holiday season–and (shhhh, don’t tell!) if you turn the pages carefully, maybe you could sneak a read before wrapping it up.

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