I only discovered Allen Eskens when I read a synopsis of his forthcoming second novel, The Guise of Another. His first book is The Life We Bury - and this is what I found when I went to read about it....
"The Life We Bury, winner of the Rosebud Award for Best First Mystery Novel, has been named a finalist for five additional awards including the prestigious Edgar® Award for Best First Novel. It was chosen by Suspense Magazine and MysteryPeople as one of the best books of 2014, and called a "masterful debut" in a starred review by Publishers Weekly." How did I miss this book?!
Joe Talbert is trying to make a life for himself. He's escaped his manipulative, dysfunctional mother, moved away and is working hard to put himself through college. His only regret is that his autistic brother is still with his mother. A routine English assignment asking students to interview and write about someone 'with an interesting life' leads Joe to a nursing home.....and to inmate Carl Iverson, who is dying of cancer.
Carl is infamous - he has spent thirty years in prison for raping and killing a young girl - all the while proclaiming he didn't do it. As Joe digs deeper with the help of his enigmatic neighbour Lila, he begins to have doubts about Carl's conviction as well.
What an excellent read! I really liked Joe as the protagonist, rather than a 'formal' detective. I appreciated the depth Eskens has given to his lead character. I was just as interested in the secondary story line involving his mother and brother as I was in the mystery. And it wasn't just the lead player who had a 'full' story. Carl's life is uncovered, bit by bit, as Joe investigates. Carl's background is unsettling and had me firmly in his corner as I too began to doubt his conviction.
Eskens deftly combines his mystery with excellent character studies and an exploration of many themes - family relationships, war, obligation, love, abuse and more.
The Life We Bury was a fitting title. Every character, 'good' and 'bad' has something in their lives they choose to hide, buried beneath the light of day. Read an excerpt of The Life We Bury.
Such a great debut! And an intriguing, satisfying read. Eskens is now firmly planted on my must read list. I'm off to start The Guise of Another - watch for my review. You can connect with Allen Eskens on his website, follow him on Twitter and like him on Facebook.