The Life We Bury

The Life We Bury

A Novel

Book - 2014
Average Rating:
Rate this:
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,a dying Vietnam veteran-- and a convicted murderer, medically paroled to a nursing home, after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder. Unable to reconcile Carl's valor in Vietnam with the despicable acts of the convict, Joe throws himself into uncovering the truth.
Publisher: Amherst, NY : Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books, 2014
ISBN: 9781616149987
Characteristics: 303 pages ; 21 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Feb 07, 2019

A debut novel from Allen Eskens who earned a journalism as well as a law degree. Retired from criminal law after 25 years of practice, he has achieved numerous awards for his writing. He has written 5 novels thus far.
Some readers find the protagonist Joe Talbert, a struggling university student who transforms into a super sleuth while writing an English course biography paper, too far- fetched and unbelievable. Although I can’t argue with this criticism, I am more forgiving. I accept this is a fictional novel rather than a documentary account and allow the author flexibility in terms of plausibility of story/characters.
What is worth noting is Eskens’ sensitivity and compassion in his portrayal of the dysfunctional, one parent family in which Joe Talbert was raised. Talbert’s younger brother is autistic, still lives with his mother, and at 18 years old functions at the level of a 7-year-old. The author does an excellent job of his characterization of a person with this disorder (remember autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that it has a complex range of symptoms: mild to severe. ), the neglect and abuse of the alcoholic mother who suffers from untreated bipolar disorder, and the dilemma faced by Talbert who has left home to attend university. Talbert is torn between the love of his brother and the need to leave home to gain a university education and hopefully allow him to rise above the poverty and hopelessness of his life. Esken also does a great job depicting Carl Iverson, a dying Vietnam vet who has served 30 years in prison for the rape and murder of his 16-yr. old neighbour. Carl is the subject Talbert chooses for his English course biography assignment. Did dying Carl Iverson rape and murder his 16 yr. old neighbour 30 yrs. ago? Talbert interviews Iverson and begins to dig into the trial documents to determine if Carl could possibly be a monster.
As the reader is drawn into the story of Carl’s traumatic war experiences, we begin to entertain the possibility of Carl’s innocence.
The author touches upon society’s tendency to “a rush to judgement” and the work of the Innocence Project. All in all, I was impressed with this debut novel and give it 5/5 stars. I look forward to more books from this author.

Apr 25, 2018

The reviewer for Book List said, above, that the premise of this book is forced when a college student becomes a super sleuth. That premise bothered me throughout the book. These 2 college students break open a mystery that no trained investigators could over 30 years? I liked the relationship between the young man and the old man he is interviewing. However, the rest of the book just didn't work for me.

Apr 22, 2018

A good mystery. Suspenseful and moves right along. Led me to read all his other books. Rewarding.

Apr 18, 2018

A college student's class assignment to write a brief bio on an interviewee leads to an unexpectedly compelling relationship and investigation of a dying heroic veteran's conviction for a rape/murder decades earlier. As the assignment quickly accelerates into a compelling mission to untangle the truth; the student, Joe Talbot, has to parry his own minefields: his responsibility to his younger autistic brother in the vulnerable care of their alcoholic, destructive mother. A real page-turner!

Mar 22, 2018

A wonderful hero on a journey of redemption in a story that gradually builds in its tempo and discovery. The pace quickens to an exciting final resolution. Joe Talbert is heroic but without superhero capabilities, a young man who has to manage and overcome his own personal challenges. He might not be wearing a cape, but he moves to a strong sense of True North with a superhero heart. This story has cinematic potential and deserves to be given life on the big screen.

Mar 06, 2018

A real page-turner! Easy reading, hard to put down. I am a slow reader, but this was very easy to read. Great development of characters, many twists and turns and sweet ending. My kind of book.

Jan 23, 2018

I enjoyed the characters and how they developed. A comfortable, easy read. Good suspense, although maybe a little unrealistic in parts, with a fairy tale ending.

Oct 11, 2017

A decent thriller with easy-to-understand prose. Fairly predictable, but I enjoyed the character development and the story as a whole.

Oct 09, 2017

An engrossing story of investigation -- of a 30 year old crime and of a developing relationship between an aging, dying convict and a young student who sets out to tell the old man's story. Well developed secondary characters and a briskly moving bit of suspense in the later pages. The book starts slowly and gains momentum as it goes.

Aug 28, 2017

Today my book club discussed this book; we all liked it, could hardly put it down. I grew up in Minnesota and, like the protagonist, went to the University of Minnesota. When I read in the book about the cold walk on the bridge across the Mississippi, I have cold memories. Weather is almost a character in the novel, as mentioned in the publisher's website, Yes, Minnesota has long, cold, brutal winters. It also has beautiful lakes and mild summers, not mentioned in this book.

The book has several fortunate, unrealistic episodes, but, after all, we like fiction to be kinder than life.

The author's website is interesting:

Take away thoughts: the Vietnam War was bad. Alcoholism is bad. Loving relationships are good. Education is good.

View All Comments


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at HCL

To Top