Bourke’s Bookshelf: ‘Things you just can’t run away from’

This week's feature read is "The Life We Bury" by Allen Eskens.

The Life We Bury
"The Life We Bury" by Allen Eskens.
Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Unexpectedly good reads are my favorites.

This last book came to me through Terry McCollough, the former publisher here at the Dispatch, who knows my penchant for a good murder mystery and my enthusiasm for Minnesota authors.

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The premise of this one grabbed my attention right away, but I wasn’t prepared for how quickly and completely I’d be drawn in.

There were a few late nights when I kept telling myself “just one more chapter.” Then upon finishing it, I got really excited but also had a feeling of dread when I realized there were more Allen Eskens books with the same main characters. Excited to revisit this world. Dreading the need I know I’d feel to read all of these books and ignore so many others on my shelves.

‘The Life We Bury’ by Allen Eskens

Joe Talbert is a student at the University of Minnesota and has a daunting assignment ahead of him.


The only English class he could get into during his last-minute registration was a biography class, requiring him to find an elderly person to interview for a semester-long project. When he steps into Hillview Manor nursing home to see if anyone might be interested in talking with him, the first person mentioned was Carl Iverson. Carl isn’t plagued with Alzheimer’s or dementia like a lot of the residents there, so he can still tell his story.

And what a story it is.

Carl is a convicted murderer, who spent 30 years in prison for the rape and murder of a 14-year-old girl in 1980. He’s also a war hero, who earned a Purple Heart in Vietnam. Now he’s dying from pancreatic cancer and was medically paroled to the nursing home with only months to live.

Though hesitant at the prospect of writing a biography about someone like Carl, Joe doesn’t have much of a choice. He already put the assignment off for long enough, and if a murderer is his only option, then so be it.

Carl promises to be honest with Joe and tell him exactly what happened 30 years ago. It’s a story Joe isn’t ready for and one that adds even more stress to his already hectic life, as he’s dealing with other classes, working to pay for college, bailing his mom out of jail and playing part-time caregiver to his autistic brother.

But it’s also a story he feels like he needs to hear.

Plus, how can he write the final chapter of Carl’s biography without knowing what turned a decorated combat veteran into a stone cold convicted killer?

Joe’s journalistic aspirations resonate with me for obvious reasons, and as I’ve said many times, it’s always fun to read about places you know. The story bounces between the university campus in Minneapolis, Joe’s hometown of Austin and a smattering of other southern Minnesota locales.


Now that I’ve finished “The Life We Bury,” I’m impatiently waiting for the hold I have on the audiobook version of Eskens’s next book featuring Joe — “The Shadows We Hide.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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