Sunday, January 15, 2017

A Book I Recommend - The Life We Bury by Allen Eakins

I received this book in December as part of our Mystery Readers holiday book exchange. It captured my interest from the very first page.

The story is about young Joe Talbot, a college student, who has a class assignment to interview a stranger and write a biography about a turning point in that person’s life. At a nursing home, Joe learns that there is one resident that might be a likely subject, Vietnam vet, Carl Iverson. But will Iverson consent to be interviewed? He is a convicted murderer who has been medically paroled because he has pancreatic cancer and only a few months to live.

As Joe is about to find out, his cell phone rings. It’s his mother who has been arrested for a DUI and is in jail. She’s screaming into the phone, demanding that Joe come bail her out. Joe must leave, and as he described his childhood, we learn that this woman is an drunk, bi-polar and sometimes violent. On top of that, Joes has a brother, two years younger, who is autistic and can’t be left alone for more than a short period of time. Joe’s focus in life is to get himself out of that situation, and he sees college as his only chance.

With his mother awaiting her court appearance, Joe takes his brother to stay with him in his apartment near the college. Lila, another college student, befriends his brother and becomes a friend of Joe’s. With her help and encouragement, Joe obtains the court records of the Iverson trial and learns about the gruesome murder.  

The next time Joe visits Iverson, he meets Iverson’s friend, another vet. Privately, the friend tells Joe that Iverson could never commit such a crime. When Joe asked why he thinks that, the man says, “Ask him about Vietnam.”

As this fast-paced story unfolds, Joe finds himself in a tug of war between the demands of his family and his need to find out the truth about Iverson. With secrets revealed, Joe goes a step too far.

The story, gritty and raw in places, exposes many issues: family relationships, abuse, autism, brotherly love, guilt, loyalty, death, the Vietnam War, and the criminal justice system, among others. As in real life, not every issue is resolved.

In the genre of mysteries, this one  stands out because the characters are compelling, the dialogue natural, and the conflict well thought out, all of which make it a page turner.