Allen Eskens knows how to write what mystery readers like to read. Count me among the faithful. He gives us Joe Talbert, a young man beset by difficulties right at the start: Joe’s got two weeks to complete an assignment for his biography class at UniGenre-Authors2versity of Minnesota. He goes to the local nursing home–Hillview Manor–to find an old person to interview. While there, he gets a phone call from the cops saying they’ve arrested his bipolar, alcoholic mother, which leaves his autistic brother, Jeremy, alone at home. Joe does the right thing, brings Jeremy to stay at his apartment and lets his mother stick it out in the clink.

Joe goes back to Hillview and is assigned to a convicted felon living out his cancer-ridden last months at the nursing home. Carl Iverson is a bad guy, convicted of raping and murdering fourteen-year-old Crystal Hagen and then burning her body in his tool shed. But when Joe talks to him, Iverson makes a dying declaration: he didn’t kill Crystal and he challenges Joe to find out who did. Joe takes the challenge, ably aided by cute next-door-neighbor Lila Nash, and the hunt is on.

The Life We Bury has much to like: a Minnesota (who doesn’t like Minnesota?) setting, a protagonist with a lot on his plate and a never-say-die attitude, and a plot that keeps us guessing. The story ends with all of the strings neatly tied, perhaps a bit too tidy, but I cheered for Joe, his protection of his brother, and his undisguised attraction to Lila. Most of all, Joe wants to see things righted for Carl Iverson. He’s noble, and that ain’t a bad thing these days.

On a scale of 1-10, i give this a 9.5.

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