This month’s theme for The Book Bum Club is ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ – pick any book set in a cold, winter, or Christmas setting! Based mainly on the cover, The Life We Bury was the book I chose to read. Renee @ It’s Book Talk said to clear my schedule because this is a one-sitting read; Eva @ Novel Deelights said this was a good one – and I can happily report, they were both correct, 5 stars of correctness!
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.
Iverson 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 starts out as an English assignment becomes Joe’s chance at redemption; when Joe first met Carl Iverson, Vietnam war veteran and convicted murderer, he never imaged it would lead to him digging into a thirty-year-old case in the hope that Iverson is innocent.
The beginning of this novel reminded me of stories of the wrongfully convicted, that search for evidence, that unsureness of whether said person is guilty or innocent. You warm to Iverson quite quickly and this has you hoping he’s innocent, and this urges you to will Joe on even more. Joe is also a very likeable character and him and his neighbour, Lila, make a great investigative pair – I enjoyed seeing how they went from just neighbours to friends, and the events that caused them to bond. You can see this protective nature in Joe and this makes your heart warm to him.
As my read progressed, this novel took a turn I wasn’t expecting, it moved from being a heavily character-driven novel, into a thriller that had me flying through the pages. This transition in tempo worked really well; Eskens grabbed my attention in the first part of this novel, made sure I was invested in the plot, and then took me on a dangerous thrill ride in the latter parts. All the while, the plot never lost its emotion, you remain connected to the story at all times.
Alongside the main plot, we have Joe’s mother, this woman is abysmal and does not care in the slightest about her autistic son, Jeremy, who is in her full-time care. Joe is struggling to find the balance between college and being there for his younger brother; these brotherly parts of the story were so heart-warming and added even more emotion into this novel to make it the moving read it was. The characters came across as very real people and forming this attachment to them is essential for this novel to work.
I loved the settings Eskens included in this novel, the snowy landscapes and the haunting scenes in Vietnam. Overall, I adored this novel and found it utterly captivating, it’s a tender story with enough mystery and suspense to keep you excited. I highly recommend you clear some time in your schedule, get comfortable and absorb this novel in one-sitting.