16 January 2016

The Life We Bury - Allen Eskens

I lost the compulsion to write reviews of every book I read but this one I will make an exception for. 2014's The Life We Bury was the first offering from Eskens, a Defence Attorney turned writer, and it's a cracking good read.
College student Joe Talbert has an English assignment: to write a biography of a stranger. He finds a man in a nursing home with an interesting history, Carl, a Vietnam Veteran and a convicted murderer, paroled from jail now that he is dying from cancer. The two make a seemingly unlikely connection and Carl maintains that his conviction was wrong - he did not rape and murder, nor burn the body of a teenage girl.
While researching his assignment Joe turns amateur detective and follows a trail which leads to spectacular findings. On the way he learns a lot about Carl's past and is forced to confront buried issues of his own. We learn about his grandfather's mysterious death, his mother's sorry life, his brother's autism and follow the subtle growth of his relationship with a female neighbour. The tale gathers pace and becomes a real page turner.
Characters are quite well drawn, some likeable, some detestable, all with pasts which weigh with varying degrees of heaviness on their presents. The writing is smooth and flawless; plenty of showing rather than telling. My one criticism is that the people Joe meets seem happy to open up immediately as if he were a long lost friend rather than a stranger. Some realism is lost this way but the tale's excitement is irrepressible.
Like many debuts, Eskens has had this work in mind for some time, distilling it, letting it ferment and grow, adding sub plots and themes, and refining his characters, making for a most entertaining read. 8/10

No comments: