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Joe Talbert #1

The Life We Bury

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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?

304 pages, Paperback

First published October 14, 2014

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About the author

Allen Eskens

9 books3,364 followers
Allen Eskens is the USA Today-bestselling author of nine novels, including The Life We Bury and most recently, The Stolen Hours and Forsaken Country. He is the recipient of the Barry Award, Rosebud Award, Minnesota Book Award, and the Silver Falchion Award and has been a finalist for the Edgar Award, Thriller Award, and Anthony Award. His work had been published in 26 languages.

Allen lives with his wife, Joely, in greater Minnesota and is represented by Amy Cloughley of Kimberley Cameron and Associates, and is published by both Seventh Street Books and Mulholland/Little Brown. To learn more about Allen, go to www.alleneskens.com.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 11,029 reviews
Profile Image for Jennifer Masterson.
200 reviews1,111 followers
September 5, 2016
Let me just say that the narrator of this book is awesome! I mean 5 Star! This book is excellent in audio!

Really good debut novel. Fun mystery with likeable characters and some good twists and turns. I loved Lila and Joe! You need to be able to suspend disbelief for this one.

Recommended for mystery/thriller lovers!
Profile Image for MarilynW.
1,068 reviews2,669 followers
October 2, 2022
The Life We Bury (Joe Talbert #1) by Allen Eskens (Author), Zach Villa (Narrator)

Listening to Nothing More Dangerous, by Allen Eskens, led me to the earlier book The LIfe We Bury. Over time, I'm going to try to listen to all of Eskens books because I've enjoyed these first two so much. Boady Sanden was fifteen years old Nothing More Dangerous and he's a college professor in The Life We Bury, although he plays only a small part in the second book.  

The Life We Bury features twenty year old college student Joe Talbert. Joe's had a hard life already, with a deadbeat, alcoholic mom and no father in sight. Joe's eighteen year old brother, Jeremy, is autistic and Joe is the only person on his side. His mom just hangs on to Jeremy for his Social Security checks. Joe has finally gotten away from his mom by going to college in another town, while he works as a bouncer at a bar. But he gets pulled back into his mom's life because Jeremy will always need him and because his mother keeps needing him to bail her out of trouble.

Joe's English writing assignment is to write a brief biography of a stranger. Joe chooses Carl Iverson, a convicted rapist and murderer of a fourteen year old girl. Carl was a hero in Vietnam and has spent thirty years in prison for the murder he committed but is now a resident of a nursing home, as he dies of pancreatic cancer. Once Joe talks to Carl and Carl's friend Virgil, he decides to dig much deeper into Carl's past and realizes that Carl might have been wrongly accused of rape and murder. And, the murderer could still be out there. Carl has only weeks to live, a murderer could still be out there, Joe is juggling school, a toxic mother, and a brother who needs his care and Joe still throws himself into danger, pushed on by demons in his past. This was a very interesting story and was Eskens debut novel. I'm glad I have more novels of his to read.

Pub June 9, 2015
Profile Image for Mischenko.
1,014 reviews97 followers
March 8, 2019
This book is featured on Throwback @

Loved it from beginning to end...

Joe, a college student, has an English assignment to complete that requires him to interview someone for a biography. He chooses a man named Carl; a Vietnam veteran who’s also a convicted rapist and murderer. Carl has an interesting background including some secrets. He’s been released from prison only because he’s dying of cancer. Everyone already knows his story, or do they? As Joe discovers more about Carl and gets him to open up about his past, he realizes that there’s a lot more going on and must uncover it all.

Joe and Carl are the main characters and the book focuses primarily on these two. There’s so much happening with Carl’s story in addition to Joe’s struggles with his alcoholic mother and autistic brother. I truly enjoyed all the characters, the plot with the twists, and the suspense. The characters are all well-written and everything felt realistic to me. I had to find out what the outcome would be, and for that, this will always be a favorite. 5-stars
Profile Image for Annet.
570 reviews716 followers
April 27, 2019
Wow, what a great book! Highly recommended: 4.5 rating. Note: just upgraded to 5 stars. Just really enjoyed this book, unusual and great story.

What drew me to this book was the unusual story of a student, Joe, who has a biography assignment for his studies and decides to interview Carl Iverson, a dying Vietnam veteran and convicted murderer and rapist in a nursing home. Carl has been released from prison because he is dying from cancer. Joe has just left his home to live near college and try and finish his studies. At home he left his alcoholic and dysfunctional mother, her abusive boyfriend and his vulnerable autistic brother Jeremy, which is really tough on him. So there are several elements in this story, part of which is the 'crime part', where Joe is trying to figure out if Carl did the murder years ago. Great writing, great story. Sensible, intelligent, tender, creepy at the same time. Will definitely go and find this author's other books.
April 20, 2021
I listened to the audio version of The Life We Bury after a tip from a Goodreads friend who also listened to it while doing chores. While listening to this I was mostly shoveling snow which made that task a little bit more tolerable. This book was an excellent choice for listening to as the pacing of the narrative kept my attention throughout and my mind didn’t wander.

The Life We Bury is a rewarding tale of two characters, Joe and Carl that are bonded together by buried secrets and the burdens they carry. Joe who takes on responsibilities way beyond his years unravels the tale of Carl’s conviction and his past secrets.

The tale is told through Joe’s eyes and ears and we learn part of the tale as Carl is telling his story to Joe. This made the audio version very enjoyable for me. It was like hearing the story for myself first hand.

I highly recommend the audio version of The Life We Bury for those times you want to get lost in the tasks and chores that need to be done.

Profile Image for Larry H.
2,481 reviews29.4k followers
November 29, 2018
4.5 stars.

It's been said you should never think you know everything about a person's struggles because they may be struggling in ways you could never imagine. There's also the old saying that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Both of those concepts get healthy exploration in Allen Eskens' bleak yet wonderful The Life We Bury .

Joe Talbert is struggling to get by on a day-to-day basis. He can barely afford college yet he's determined to stay there as long as he can, but he has to deal with the demands of his bipolar alcoholic mother, who often leaves him to tend to Jeremy, his autistic brother. Sometimes the tug-of-war between family and college is more than he can bear, yet he is wracked with guilt at the thought of leaving his brother in his mother's irresponsible and erratic care.

He gets an assignment in English class to interview a stranger and write a biography of them. Procrastinating for far too long, he goes to a nearby nursing home in the hopes of interviewing one of the residents. Instead, he winds up meeting Carl Iverson, a terminally ill man recently released from prison after more than 30 years, who was medically paroled to the nursing home. A Vietnam vet, Carl was convicted of the brutal rape and murder of a young girl.

When Carl and Joe begin talking, Carl makes it clear he will not lie to Joe. He simply wants to tell Joe his story, and Joe wants to understand why if Carl and his friend Virgil both insist that Carl is innocent, things went so awry during his trial and Carl never tried to correct the situation in all this time. How can he reconcile the man's heroism in Vietnam with the grisly crime scene pictures and the testimony presented against him?

"No sin could be greater than a sin that cannot be rectified, the sin you never get to confess. So this...this conversation with you...this is my dying declaration. I don't care if anybody reads what you write. I don't even care if you write it down at all...I have to say the words out loud. I have to tell someone the truth about what happened all those years ago. I have to tell someone the truth about what I did."

The more Joe and Carl talk, the more interested Joe becomes in the events of 30 years ago. He and his neighbor, Lila, begin combing through the files from the trial and start uncovering threads that never had been pursued at that time. But why didn't Carl give his attorney this information? Why did he simply give up and let the jury convict him?

The Life We Bury is both a compelling mystery and a moving character study of a young man dealing with more than his share of problems, who is determined that truth and justice get their due. His efforts aren't entirely magnanimous—he's hoping that his actions might help alleviate some guilt he's been carrying around for a long time. But by putting everyone else, including his brother, first, does he destroy his own chances to move beyond the bleak existence he's had for so long.

Allen Eskens is a fantastic writer, a fact I discovered when I read his amazing The Deep Dark Descending (see my review) last year. The Life We Bury was his debut novel, and it was pretty great itself, although I'll admit that I rolled my eyes a tiny bit that two college students would suddenly fancy themselves detectives.

That quirk notwithstanding, Eskens hooked me from the very first sentences, and even though I had some idea of how the book would resolve itself, that didn't affect my enjoyment at all. I loved Joe's character, and found his struggles between family and doing his own thing to be very familiar.

You can bet I'll be reading Eskens' other books now that I loved the first two I've read. He's a great combination of storyteller and master of suspense, and that makes for some great reading.

See all of my reviews at itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com, or check out my list of the best books I read in 2017 at https://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blogspot.com/2018/01/the-best-books-i-read-in-2017.html.
Profile Image for j e w e l s.
307 reviews2,342 followers
October 26, 2017
This book has been in my Audible wish list for at least three years. From the summary, it looks like a book I would enjoy: mystery, suspense, rave reviews for the storytelling. The only thing holding me back was the Vietnam War veteran as a character. How ridiculously picky is that? I was secretly afraid it would be too graphic in retelling old war stories. And it was a bit graphic, but thankfully very brief. As it turns out, Carl Iverson the paroled convict and war veteran, is a major reason this book is so lovable!

The heart tugging, suspenseful book centers around Joe, a street-smart college student. He has had to struggle for everything in his life. He never knew his dad, his mom is a raging alcoholic and his almost grown brother, Jeremy, is a perpetual seven year old due to his autism issues.

Our guy, Joe, literally stumbles onto a mystery while writing a biography essay on a nursing home resident, Carl Iverson. If solved, the mystery may exonerate Carl of crimes that sent him to prison for 30 years. Carl doesn't particularly care if he is exonerated or not, which makes the mystery even more compelling. Joe, however, does care. That is the kind of guy he is. Principled, caring, compassionate. And tough as nails.

Allen Eskens is a first rate storyteller and a natural born writer! The story flows effortlessly from Carl's life story to Joe's back story. They seem to not have anything in common with each other, but as they talk, their stories become intertwined. The ending is a little bit of a twist and 100% reader satisfying. 

I can't tell you how engrossed and invested I was while listening. I could not stop listening and the book made packing up for a big family move almost bearable! There was just enough of everything I love in a good story: mystery, suspense, likable (lovable) protagonists, real emotions and struggles, and a rewarding ending! I also adored the Minnesota setting, the cold, snowy weather provides the perfect tone to the story. I finished this little beauty in less than 2 days.

This book won all kinds of awards as a debut novel for Eskens. Deservedly so. You will not regret listening or reading this one!

The audio book is narrated by a talented actor, Zach Villa. I felt he perfectly captured the voice of Joe and Carl. Not an easy task, considering the age and life differences of the two characters. If you like audio books, I highly recommend this one! If not, you must read it!

Lucky for all readers, there are three more books in this Eskens series. They are touted as possible standalone books, but most of my Goodreads friends say the back stories are so interesting that you will want to read all of the books. That's enough for me, I already borrowed the next audiobook from the handy dandy Overdrive app (free!!!) and started listening to THE GUISE OF ANOTHER.

Sadly, we are still packing and moving, but thank God for writers like Eskens for making it less painful!
Profile Image for Jaline.
444 reviews1,603 followers
June 3, 2018
” . . . . maybe [the high-school guidance counselor] knew who my mother was and figured that no one can change the sound of an echo.”

College material or not, that’s where Joe is. Neither Joe nor his autistic younger brother Jeremy have ever met their fathers. Their mother is an alcoholic who also has a mental health disorder and refuses to seek out or accept help. At ages 11 and 9, the death of Joe and Jeremy’s grandfather was also the end of mitigation in their mother’s behaviors. Although Joe is in a different city at college, he is close enough to go home in case of emergencies. Despite his school workload and working evenings and weekends to pay for school, Joe is doing well – except life keeps sending him curve balls.

One of his assignments in College is to write a Biography about someone that includes two corroborating references. Joe gets the idea to go to a Seniors home, convinced that long lives would hold more information, especially about times long past.

Out of the possibilities to interview, only one intrigues Joe by the uniqueness of his story: Carl Iverson, convicted rapist and murderer. He is dying, and although skeptical at first, he sees Joe as an avenue for telling the truth of his story as a killer and as a murderer, while Joe learns the difference between the two and is on a mission to write about Carl’s role as both.

This book grabbed my attention from the beginning. The way the story unfolded was very engaging and I was quickly fascinated by Joe’s own story and could not wait to find out more about Carl Iverson. As intriguing as the characters are, the plot also moves at a brisk and steady pace – except for the times when we are racing through a scene that is filled with suspense and danger. And there are a few of those.

The writing in this novel is exceptionally good. The author uses a light hand with imagery, metaphors and similes that pop up like little surprises of silvery clarification. The personalities of his characters and the smooth flow of the plot are the driving forces that held my rapt attention, while the poetic moments touched my heart.

It has only been four years since this debut novel broke out and touched so many readers with its story. Since then, the author has written three more novels, and I can hardly wait to explore each one of them. Highly recommended to everyone.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
3,921 reviews35.4k followers
December 6, 2017
Audiobook... narrated by *Zack Villa*.....WAS TERRIFIC! Zack was a flawless voice!!!Something about the way Mr. Zack Villa read this novel, was absolutely the perfect combination of real - calm - not too phony or hyped - but always held my attention. I felt like I was in the same room with him while he was talking to me. AND I liked the story AND characters - equally. ( maybe the characters a little more).

This was a ‘daily deal’ chance-buy - knowing nothing about it except what the Goodreads blurb said.....along ‘with’ 52,852 ratings - and 6,103 reviews with an average of 3.94 stars.

So.... ( laugh with me?) .... so I can take a December holiday break and not write ANOTHER REVIEW ( maybe a few more breaks this month too while on vacation with Paul for our 39th anniversary), ....
........now that all my stitches are off my nose and forehead - both eyes are fully open - swelling is down enough to fit a pair of glasses on for driving - I’m allowed to drive finally after almost a month. I can get out of this house today and drive myself up to a trail —( with my new sunblock clothing and sunblock hat and listen to another audiobook) .... instead of being online writing this review... lol
THERE ARE SO MANY GREAT ONES ALREADY.... many 5 and 4 Star reviews ....
Jennifer Masterson, Annet, Linda, PorshaJo, Susanne Strong, TANYA, Vanessa, to name a few. —- and MANY MORE
Cathrine gave it 2 Stars ... read hers too.

KEPT ME ON THE EDGE OF MY TUSH! Enjoy it!! 5 stars for me!

Happy Holiday season to the Goodreads Community!!!

Profile Image for Linda.
1,194 reviews1,245 followers
November 13, 2016
"His dying declaration......that's what he called it. It's a statement that's true because you don't want to die with a lie on your lips."

Joe Talbert is a struggling Minnesota college student just trying to get by. An English class assignment is handed off to him to write a biography of a stranger. Easy stuff? Oh, not hardly.

The minute that Joe's car pulls into the parking lot of a local nursing home, it becomes a trajectory into a different time, place, and circle of life. Joe is assigned to Carl Iverson who has been released from prison because he is dying. Carl had been convicted of rape and murder many years ago. Now what kind of conversations would take place in the presence of a murderer?

Joe's feet are like sandbags as he makes his way into Carl's dimly lit room. Just how does one uncork the bottle of crimes of the past? But with each visit to the nursing home, Joe and his girlfriend, Lila, are convinced that there is far more to Carl's story than the willowy seaweed floating on the surface of this ocean.

Allen Eskens does a fine job of presenting believable characters. Joe has an autistic brother who lives with their mother. Ol' Mom stares at the bottom of a booze bottle on a daily basis much to the exasperation of Joe. Joe seems to be the major caretaker here while balancing college classes. We, as readers, feel for the lack of oxygen in his life. And we also stand side-by-side with Joe as he pursues all the faulty circumstances throughout Carl's disjointed life.

This was a very engaging read in which Eskens takes us down a very original storyline. The scope of the story widens from the simplicity of a college assignment into the dangerous footholds of a treacherous past. What I especially liked is the author's ability to see goodness where it often doesn't reside. We readily connect with this story because of it.

Will be checking out any future offerings by Allen Eskens. You've reeled me in!

Profile Image for Susanne.
1,157 reviews36.5k followers
April 30, 2017
4.5 Stars
An Intense Novel that Makes Your Blood Pressure Rise and Your Heart Beat Out of Your Chest. Highly Recommended!

Joe Talbert hasn't had an easy life. He is a college student whose mother is a drunk and whose younger brother is autistic. He never met his father and unfortunately, he lost his grandfather years ago. He only recently transferred to the University after taking classes at the Community College. He has worked like crazy ever since he could remember, supporting his alcoholic mother and younger brother. Now, he works as a bouncer in order to pay for college. For an English class, he receives an assignment that he has put off for a long time: to interview a stranger, and draft a biography. Not knowing where else to go, Joe drives to a nursing home, thinking someone there will have the life experience he is looking for. He is right. There he meets Carl Iverson. Carl served 30 years in prison for murder, rape and arson and was let out to serve the remainder of his sentence at the home because he has stage 4 cancer and only has a few months to live.

Carl Iverson has never told anyone his story. Upon meeting Joe Talbert, he decides that Joe will be the first. That he will tell Joe his "dying declaration," though no one else will probably hear it or ever know the truth. He has a few requests: That Joe listen and not judge him (which Joe promises to do), and that Joe be honest with him about his life and his secrets as well.

In interviewing Carl and in finding out more about Carl's past, Joe learns that Carl was a Vietnam Vet, and that he won awards. Does this jibe with Carl being a murderer and a rapist, Joe wonders? Then Joe and his neighbor Lila obtain Carl's trial file and both begin to dig deep to find the truth. This takes both Joe and Lila into places neither expected and things go awry. In the midst of this, Joe has to deal with familial problems making things even more difficult.

In the Life We Bury, sometimes Joe Talbert, seems intelligent beyond his years. His thoughts and his vocabulary are far wiser than those of most twenty-one year olds. This may be because he is the man of the family and basically raised brother. That said, he also comes across as being quite naive in several situations that arose and in those situations I found my heart beating, my blood pressure rising and my stomach churning. Carl Iverson is a very complex man who, at times appears cold and emotionless. In uncovering the life he buried, you come to understand why.

What struck me about this novel was how well written each character was. You could picture each one in your mind, fully fleshed out. From Joe's alcoholic mother. To Jeremy, his brother. To his neighbor, Lila. And for a debut novel - this was even more incredible. Allen Eisken nailed it. Further, I thought the narrator, Zack Villa, did an excellent job narrating the voices, changing the tones for each character, especially Joe and Carl.

I listened to the audiobook, in my car, doing chores and during work lunch hours (basically whenever I could) and I had a hard time controlling my emotions especially during the last 1/4 of the book. I was basically crawling out of my skin, (though I admit, I understood something important midway through) and still found that I was unable to tear myself away. This was by far, one of my favorites books of the year and I recommend it (and especially the audiobook) to anyone looking for a story with compelling characters who draw you in.

Published on Goodreads and Amazon on 4.30.17.
Profile Image for PorshaJo.
442 reviews657 followers
February 7, 2017
Rating 4.5

The Life We Bury is a book that took me by surprise. I knew a bit about it, saw some reviews, but didn't rush to get it. I put it in my audio queue awhile back and again, didn't think much when it arrived in my inbox. Then I started listening and was immediately hooked.

Joe Talbert is a young college student who you can say, is struggling to keep it together. His mother is a drunk, frequently arrested, or off gambling someplace. His brother, is autistic, and needs supervision, which he sadly does not get from his mother. Joe seems intelligent at times but then quite aloof and dimwitted at others. He has to write a biography of an elderly person for a course. Naturally, he waits so long on starting, and he ends up going to a local nursing home to find a person to write about.

Carl Iverson is the man that he meets in that nursing home. Carl is a convicted murderer, rapist, and arsonist who served 30 years in prison and is now in the nursing home, dying of pancreatic cancer. He's accused of the murder of a 14-year old girl who lived next to him long ago. He agrees to tell Joe his life story, calling it his 'dying declaration'. And there is where the story took off. Joe begins to hear Carl's story, dig into the evidence, and do his own investigative work. Helping him is his neighbor, Lila, who Joe is infatuated with, and his brother, Jeremy (unwittingly helping him). Jeremy brought some much needed relief to this heavy story.

Wow! This one kept me on the edge of seat the entire time. The audio was great, the narrator really brought the story to life, as well as, all the characters. He did an amazing job. A true highlight of an audio. I listened to this while in the kitchen, cleaning, baking, anything just to keep listening. Every chance I got, I would listen to this one. I had to know how this story would end. Yes, at some point I had an idea of what would happen. But it didn't matter. The ride of getting to that point was intense and I loved it. A great story, audio, and thriller. One, I'm sure, I will remember for sometime.
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
603 reviews330 followers
March 15, 2016
Based on the reception by most, lucky for some new authors I’m not the one approving their debut manuscripts or on the nominating panel for Anthony Award books. Maybe I’m just a jaded, hard to please reader? It’s true my mother would sometimes refer to me as a spoilsport. Perhaps there should be a warning label on my thoughts: Readers under a certain age should just ignore Cathrine’s opinions. Well, I liked the cover and it was on sale at Amazon for $1.99 so on my e-reader it went.

Initially we have a young college student who is easily manipulated by his abusive alcoholic mother, can hardly say more than one word to the girl next door he’s attracted to, then quickly turns into a smart-young-man able to refigure a 30-year-old murder case, then turns back into a not-very-bright college student stupidly confronting a man he believes to be a murderer with all his evidence and no backup. From my POV it bordered on YA and lacked depth and substance for a seasoned reader. Perhaps a good travel book or beach read where there are many distractions. I do enjoy the occasional light read but this one failed to deliver the expected pleasure usually derived. The good? The interactions between Joe, Lila, and autistic brother Jeremy. I would have liked more of that.
Profile Image for karen.
3,976 reviews170k followers
May 6, 2019
3.5 stars!

this is a very good mystery debut, with memorable characters and a fairly standard/familiar plot, but it's got enough promise in it that i am very confident his second book will be remarkable.

joe talbert is a 21-year-old college student tasked with writing a biographical piece on an elderly individual for his writing class. having no family members fitting the bill, he goes to a nursing home to find a willing participant. the only resident with enough cognitive capacity to take part is carl iverson, a vietnam vet and convicted rapist/murderer released from jail on medical parole after thirty years; he is dying of pancreatic cancer and has been sent to the nursing home to live out his remaining months.

iverson agrees to be interviewed as long as joe agrees to complete transparency in all of their dealings.

I'll be truthful with you. I'll answer any question you put to me. I'll be that proverbial open book, but I need to know that you are not wasting my limited time. You have to be honest with me as well.

knowing he is going to die soon, he feels an urgency to come clean about his past - all of his past.

So this…this conversation with you…this is my dying declaration. I don't care if anybody reads what you write. I don't even care if you write it down at all…I have to say the words out loud. I have to tell someone the truth about what happened all those years ago. I have to tell someone the truth about what I did."

so joe finds himself becoming a sort of amateur sleuth, listening to what iverson is telling him, but also tracking down the primary sources of the long-ago crime to find out what really happened, along with a pretty, but guarded, neighbor named lila.

joe is also dealing with a heap of personal problems - his bipolar alcoholic mother has shacked up with a man who has been abusing joe's 18-year-old autistic brother jeremy, and joe finds himself having to step in and care for jeremy and bail his mother out of jail while iverson's life keeps ticking inexorably away.

the relationships between joe and carl and joe and jeremy are very realistically rendered, although the relationship between joe and lila is somewhat less so. jeremy is very sensitively depicted, and the backstory involving joe's grandfather added a nice horrifying but then tender element.

there's a little The Ploughmen: A Novel here, a little The Silence of the Lambs in the quid pro quo element, and the vietnam scenes are particularly strong. it doesn't ultimately do much more than be a serviceable mystery novel with interesting characters, but it's well worth a read, and stay tuned, because i predict his second book will have tightened up some of the formulaic bits and i am eagerly awaiting it.

this kind of annoyed me:

but apart from that - a good book and an author to watch.

and the book also made a great eternal flame-stand at BEA!!

also, did you guys know that erin is as cute as a button??? it's true.

come to my blog!
Profile Image for Sujoya .
382 reviews732 followers
April 2, 2022

“I had come to Hillview looking for a hero and instead I'd found a villain.”

Joe Talbert is a student at the University of Minnesota working on an assignment for his English class. He visits Hillview Manor, a nursing home for the elderly, intending to make acquaintance with an elderly person on whom he could base his assignment - a biographical account of a person’s life highlighting all its significant moments. Once there, initially discouraged on account of most of the residents being in poor health or unable to converse much, he is pointed in the direction of Carl Iverson, convicted rapist and murderer incarcerated for thirty years and recently paroled to the nursing home, terminally ill with cancer and with not much time left to live.

“He would certainly have a story to tell, but was it a story I wanted to write?”

With no other alternative in sight, Joe decides to proceed with Carl, who agrees to meet with him, as the subject for his assignment. When they meet and Joe learns more about Carl, he finds it hard to reconcile this terminally ill, decorated Vietnam War veteran (honorably discharged) with the same man who brutally raped and murdered a fourteen-year-old girl in 1981. He is encouraged by Carl’s ex-army buddy Virgil to dig deeper into the case and with the help of Lila, his neighbor and fellow student who is also dealing with traumatic incidents from her past, he researches Carl’s case after being granted permission to study the case files by Carl and the public defender's office. Carl expresses that he is willing to give Joe his “dying declaration” and when prodded admits that he was innocent of the crime he has been serving time for. On his part, Joe is struggling between holding a job at a local pub, paying for and attending classes, dealing with a selfish and alcoholic mother who is also bi-polar and caring for an autistic younger brother, Jeremy, who his mother mostly neglects but whose Social Security benefits she greedily collects. His interactions with Carl, who encourages him to open up about his own life as he shares details of his, enable him to confront his own demons and past trauma while trying to make sense of his own life and priorities. As Joe and Lila delve deeper into the details surrounding Carl’s case, they uncover much more than had bargained for and and their research soon turns into a full-fledged investigation into the crime and Carl’s conviction- an investigation that comes with its own set of consequences.

As a debut novel, The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens is beyond impressive. Easy flowing narrative, simple straightforward prose and superb characterizations make this an engaging read. Both Joe’s and Carl’s characters have been crafted with so much depth and balance that they seem real to you. Both Joe’s and Carl’s backstories are also very well developed. Joe’s bond with Jeremy is depicted with utmost warmth and compassion. Lila is portrayed as an intelligent and strong young woman with her own traumatic past who though initially convinced of Carl’s guilt does not let that get in the way of helping Joe in his investigation. The plot is not completely unpredictable and some parts are clichéd but the presentation of the story in its totality is extremely well executed. I immensely enjoyed the audio narration by Zack Villa and think that it went very well with Joe’s PoV. This is my first experience with this author’s work and I’m surely going to follow up with the remaining books in the series.

“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.”
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :) .
977 reviews2,662 followers
March 8, 2020
**Reading a Second Time for Book Club, we all loved it!! ***

Wow, this book was such a great listen, the story was fantastic! I love strong character driven novels and they don't get much better than Allen Eskens books.

Joe is a young man who is about as good as they come. Struggling to stay in college with no help from his alcoholic mother, and keep an eye on his autistic brother. He is strongly bonded to his brother and cares greatly about his welfare even when it disrupts his own young life.

An English assignment takes him to a nursing home and one of the only residents who is willing to talk to him, a convicted murderer. We learn so much about Carl Iverson, the demons that he has wrestled with his entire life and the secrets that he carries.

Joe meets a young woman, Lila, who is drawn to Joe because of the caring person that he is, she has had her own life's experiences that make her shy away from many men. Between the two of them they decide to really find out what happened that day that a fire took the life of a young girl and the jury found Carl guilty on very weak evidence.

I'm sure this is just as good a book to read and it was to listen to and I would recommend it to anyone who loves a beautifully crafted novel with memorable characters and a mystery to solve. Just wonderful.

ADDENDUM: I had just real Mr. Eskens new book "The Shaows We Hide" if you are interested in my review of that book here it is: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
January 7, 2018
4 stars!

This story follows Joe Talbert, a college student given an English course assignment to write a brief biography on a stranger. At a local nursing home, Joe meets Carl Iverson, a dying Vietnam veteran who spent thirty years in prison for a brutal rape and murder. Iverson only has weeks left to live and agrees to give Joe his honest life story down to the gritty details – his dying declaration. As pieces of Joe’s personal life crumble around him, he investigates and uncovers answers to Iverson’s long buried past.

One of my most favourite themes in this book was the bond between brothers. I loved the relationship Joe had with his eighteen year-old autistic brother Jeremy – it touched my heart.

A lot of this story felt like a solid 5 star read, but a couple parts didn’t work as well for me. For the most part, I enjoyed the romance between Joe and Lila but felt it sidetracked a little too far into that at some points. I also felt that a few things throughout the novel seemed to happen just in the nick of time. While it didn’t ruin the story for me, it felt a little too convenient for my liking.

Overall, I really enjoyed this one and look forward to reading more from this author!!
Profile Image for Holly  B (busy month catching up).
799 reviews1,807 followers
December 22, 2017

A homework assignment turned murder investigation! 30 year old murder investigation!

I loved the plot and the character of Joe Talbert. He is a 21 year old college student and he has not had an easy life growing up in Minnesota. His mom is an alcoholic and can barely care for his younger autistic brother, Jeremy(adored this character).

Joe has an English assignment and ends up interviewing Carl, a man convicted of murder 30 years prior. Carl went to Vietnam and was awarded a silver cross and a couple of purple hearts. Joe's research leads to questions about the murder and he starts digging.

I absolutely enjoyed this multi-layered plot and know many have raved about this one. It is graphic with some disturbing passages as the plot thickens. If you enjoy gritty crime novels, I'd say this may be a must read!
Profile Image for Kasey.
245 reviews15 followers
February 10, 2016
The literary equivalent of having Cheetos and Diet Coke for breakfast.
Profile Image for Brandice.
824 reviews
March 23, 2020
In The Life We Bury Minnesota college student Joe Talbert is assigned to write a biography for one of his classes. With few relatives nearby, he goes to a local nursing home and meets Carl Iverson, a terminally ill man who’s biding his remaining time there after being moved from prison. Carl was convicted of murder of a young girl 30 years ago who was his neighbor. He claims his innocence in that crime but feels resigned to his fate, based on other events from his past. Joe isn’t convinced and decides to do some digging on his own, with the help of his neighbor, Lila.

I was interested in the story from the beginning, and overall, it kept me hooked — There were a few parts in the second half that felt a bit convenient, particularly when Joe found himself in a critical bind, but it was still good. I tore through the last 50-60 pages of the book.

The Life We Bury is an engaging mystery with a likable main character in Joe.
Profile Image for *TANYA*.
1,002 reviews287 followers
June 3, 2017
I cannot believe this book gets anything less than 5 stars!!! It was FANTASTIC from beginning to end. A must read and I have so much to say but don't want to give anything away either. I'm casting Jeremy Irons as Carl and Logan Lerman as Joe.
Profile Image for Starjustin.
91 reviews254 followers
November 5, 2016
Excellent book and author. Great reading! A real page turner to the end. Looking forward to this authors latest novel.
Profile Image for Casey.
617 reviews40 followers
February 19, 2015
This book is basically a 2.5. The blurb makes it sound like most of the book has to do with a Vietnam veteran coming clean about a rape/murder conviction and whether he is guilty or innocent. That's really a small chunk of the plot, and I think that we can all use our adult judgment to figure out that there wouldn't be a book here if he confessed guilt. Brush that away, and you have a generic detective novel with a college student in the place of the usual grizzled cop. Rather than being your standard alcoholic loner, he's isolated because he has to deal with his bipolar (and alcoholic!) mother and his autistic brother. The twists are predictable, the leaps of faith confounding, and everything always seems to work out okay for some reason.

The reason I rounded down rather than up? The character Lila.
Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,028 reviews661 followers
February 24, 2018
The sound of an echo cannot be changed, and what's done cannot be undone.  An attempt to put one man's nightmare to rest may result in finally silencing another.  There are myriad meanings to be taken from the title.  Good story by a talented storyteller.  This is the second book I've read from this author, and I mean to pursue his others.
Profile Image for NZLisaM.
414 reviews366 followers
June 1, 2022
4.5 rounded up to 5.

‘I had come to Hillview looking for a hero and instead I’d found a villain.’

In 1980 Carl Iverson raped and murdered a fourteen-year-old girl.

After serving thirty years in prison he is paroled to a retirement home (Hillview Manor) following a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Enter, University of Minnesota student Joe Talbert, in desperate need of an elderly person to interview for an English assignment he’s been putting off starting.

When, the Receptionist of Hillview suggests Carl Iverson as a potential interview subject, Joe can’t help but be intrigued by the suggestion. Sure, the man may be a monster, but at least his biography paper will be anything but dull.

Joe should’ve been careful what he wished for though, because Carl’s life story contains a lot more excitement than he bargained on, and pretty soon the college student is in way over his head.

What a phenomenal start to a series! Consider me a new fan. This book had so much heart. I loved the writing, the protagonist, and all the supporting characters. I appreciated how Joe was written. How he’s had to grow up fast, and take on a lot of responsibility at a young age, and now aged twenty all he wants is a normal regular college experience free from the burden of his family. Sure, sometimes he came across as selfish, but it was completely understandable given his circumstances and upbringing, as well as age appropriate. I also thought the way in which Joe’s mother’s came up with the idea of naming her son’s was kind of cruel, but also amusing and highly original.

Okay, so the mystery was pretty predictable, but I adored the various unique ways Joe and co. deciphered the clues, the action-packed last 40%, and the emotional closing chapter. My only minor issue was that at times Joe’s problem-solving abilities were a little implausible – think MacGyver. Sexism alert, but this is the third book I’ve read this year written by a male author containing a protagonist such as this, and the third time I’ve brought it up.

Now for the content warnings. There were some graphic passages regarding crimes against women, and war violence. They were few and far in between, the violence was as minimal as the author could possibly make it, and the crimes depicted were essential for plot and character developmental.

My one regret is that I should have read this series a lot sooner, but at least I get to enjoy if this year. If like me, you haven’t gotten around to this incredible series yet, then this could be the year for you too.
Profile Image for Sandysbookaday is (reluctantly) on hiatus.
1,928 reviews2,017 followers
September 8, 2016
When trouble comes, it tends to come in bucket-loads. Just ask Joe Talbot.

Joe has an unreliable, alcoholic mother and an autistic brother whom his mother tends to abandon unthinkingly. Joe is away at college, struggling to pay his tuition fees, working more than studying, looking out for his brother Jeremy, and admiring the girl next door.

An assignment to write the biography of someone leads Joe to a residential home for the elderly, and to Carl Iverson, a dying Vietnam Vet and a murderer. Carl is one of the few people in the facility who still has his faculties.

The last thing that Joe expects to discover is that Carl is not guilty of the murder he was convicted of and served a life sentence for. But if Carl didn't kill this young girl then who did? And how are they going to prove it after all this time?

There is a fair bit of violence in this book, but none of it gratuitous. It is all worked seamlessly into the storyline, a story that had me hanging on every word. The characterization is superb. Joe is torn between his own aspirations and his love for and desire to protect his brother. Joe's mother is a typical unreliable alcoholic, who will abandon her autistic son at the whiff of the next drink or for the company of a passing man. Jeremy, Joes brother, is equally delightful and hard work. And Lila, the girl next door? She has been hurt badly and far prefers Jeremy's company to Joes. She is bright, quick thinking and loyal to those she trusts.

This was an excellent read, and one that will have me seeking out more of Allen Esken's work.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,694 reviews14.1k followers
October 20, 2014
Joe Talbert is a young man, who had to assume many responsibilities a young age, one for his autistic brother and also for his alcoholic and partying mother. Finally moving away, getting a job and paying his own way through college, he just might now be able to have a life of his own. Until a school assignment threatens to overturn all for which he has worked.

A solid debut novel, part legal story, part mystery with the right mixture of family intrigue and a rapid moving plot. Loved his autistic brother and the parts concerning him served to elevate some of the tension of the story. Joe himself is one interesting character that despite his own hard earned independence will find it impossible not to do the right thing.

ARC from publisher.
Profile Image for Julie .
4,000 reviews58.9k followers
October 3, 2016
The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens is a 2014 Seventh Street Books publication.

The Life We Bury is a compelling debut mystery thriller which explores various forms and levels of guilt while at the same time, providing hope and redemption.
Joe is doing a paper for his college biography class, prompting him to visit a nursing home in hopes of interviewing someone who has lived a long life, who might be willing to share their experiences, which will hopefully leave an inspirational impression. However, the only mentally coherent patient is a man dying of pancreatic cancer, named Cal Iverson, who is as far from inspirational as you can get.
Cal, spent half his life in prison for the rape and murder of a fourteen year old girl. Released from prison due to his medical situation, Cal agrees to be interviewed by Joe, who believes the old man is looking for someone to confess to, to unburden himself, before he passes on.
But, once Joe begins to study Cal’s case, discrepancies, and new information cast a new light on the crime, prompting Joe to entertain the idea that Cal may not be guilty after all.

This story is not only an absorbing murder mystery, it is also a dramatic piece that explores the complexities of family responsibility, friendship, honor, truth, and justice. It also explores the imprint that tragedy and war can leave on a person’s soul, and how that impacts our thought process and our decision making.

Joe’s family life is a mess, and at such a young age, Joe must cope with his bipolar, alcoholic mother, who constantly neglects her autistic son, Jeremy.
Joe often has to be the adult in the family while his mother manipulates him by using emotional blackmail, leaving Joe to care for Jeremy while he tries to hold down two jobs and attend classes.
Jeremy plays a vital role in the story and quickly captured my heart. Other characters rounding out the cast, includes Cal’s best friend, and Joe’s neighbor, Lila, who helps him read trial transcripts and takes a special interest in Jeremy while battling her own sordid demons.

For the most part, the writing was solid, but did hit a few snags here and there, when the pacing lost momentum and fluidity. Some characters were developed, some grew emotionally as the story progressed, while others were sadly underdeveloped and failed to make a viable connection to the other key characters or even to the reader.

However, once the race begins in earnest to find the truth before Cal dies, the writing and plotting tightened up considerably and I became utterly absorbed in the story, and couldn't stop reading until the last word was spoken.
Overall, I was impressed enough with this debut novel, I will be looking out for subsequent releases by this author.

4 stars
Profile Image for Vanessa.
462 reviews288 followers
November 18, 2017
I started with the audiobook version but got so into this book I switched over to the ebook version just so I could read it faster. I was that absorbed! Loved this book! Perfectly executed, the setting and the writing were top notch to keep me reading well into the night. I’m so glad I took notice of the positive reviews for this book as it was even better than expected! I even teared up at the end. A great and fitting ending to match a thoroughly enjoyable and riveting story. Will definitely be reading whatever else this author has to offer!!
Profile Image for Carolyn.
2,129 reviews607 followers
May 7, 2021
This was the perfect audiobook to listen to on a recent road trip. The story is an unusual one, of a college student getting caught up in investigating a murder and the narrator Zach Villa does a terrific job in reading the book.

Joe Talbert, a college student has an English assignment to write a brief biography of an elderly person. Not having any older family members himself, he contacts his local Nursing Home and a Vietnam vet and convicted murderer named Carl agrees to be interviewed by Joe. Carl was given a life sentence for the rape and murder of a fourteen year old girl but has been paroled because he is dying of cancer. He tells Joe he didn't kill the girl, which Joe disbelieves but after reviewing the evidence presented at Carl's trial wonders whether there could be more to the story. Aided by his neighbour and fellow student, Lila, he digs deeper into Carl's background and the events leading up to the murder.

I was really drawn to the characters in this novel. Carl's stories of Vietnam, saving his buddy Virgil and defying his platoon sergeant when he wanted him to kill an innocent villager, showed a different side to the ex-con. Joe's own life has also not been easy, finally escaping his dysfunctional home with his dissolute mother only to be called back every time she goes off on a bender, leaving his autistic brother Jeremy to fend for himself. The brothers have a great relationship with Jeremy trusting Joe to look out for him and keep him safe. Joe's neighbour Lila is another damaged teen who is trying to overcome trauma from her past and is reluctant to let Joe get close at first, but together the three of them form strong bonds. While you may need to suspend belief a little as events unfold and Joe gets in over his head, I enjoyed pace and action of the story. 4.5 ★
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