College student Joe Talbert has a lot going on. His mom is a mess of mental illness and alcoholism, and he often finds himself as the primary caretaker for his autistic little brother. Despite his familial challenges, he’s finally made it into college. His English assignment is to find a stranger, interview him, and write a biography of his or her life. How difficult could this really be?
In Allen Eskens’ The Life We Bury, what starts as a simple college assignment turns out to be a full-blown investigation into a crime committed decades ago, and an exploration of a dying man’s haunting memories. Talbert, through a series of events that sounds much more believable in the book, chooses to interview a chronically ill convict released to a local retirement home. As he interviews the convicted killer, questions about the case and the man’s past arise.
I’ve been trying to pinpoint why this thriller wasn’t too memorable to me. It was solid all around. The characters were quirky, charming, and lovable. The side plot of Talbert’s budding romance with his neighbor was delightful. Allen Eskens is clearly a talented author, he can build up a tale that keeps a reader curious and entertained.
I think part of the problem, for me, was the amount of setup required to get the thrill on here. The plot required a lot of explanation at every turn, and none of it felt easy or natural to me. Why go to an old folks home? Why is the inmate there? Why this? Why that? Those who read the blog know I’m not a fan of the bells or whistles as much as I am a simple, well-crafted story, well-written. While I loved the characters, I didn’t love the way the story was built.
However, if you love charming, off-beat folks coming together to solve mysteries (think Peter Clines or Harlen Coben), then give this one a go. And this was Eskens’ debut novel, so definitely keep an eye on what is to come from him.