The Life We Bury Summary & Study Guide

Allen Eskens
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The Life We Bury Summary & Study Guide Description

The Life We Bury Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens.

"The Life We Bury" by Allen Eskens is a mystery novel about a young college student whose assignment in a biography class leads him to investigate a thirty-year-old murder. He finds inconsistencies in the case and realizes the convicted murderer may have been wrongfully accused. This engaging narrative explores the concepts of justice, honesty, and responsibility as Joe seeks to uncover the truth hidden in the past.

When Joe Talvert visits Hillview Manor in search of a subject for his biography class assignment, the director and the receptionist suggest that he interview Carl Iverson, a convicted murderer dying of cancer. Receiving a call about his mother's arrest, Joe rushes off to take care of Jeremy, his autistic brother. Carl agrees to talk to Joe whose research reveals that Carl was found guilty of raping and murdering seventeen-year-old Crystal Marie Hagan in 1980. While Joe is gone, Jeremy has a problem with the television and is assisted by Joe's neighbor, Lila, who agrees to a friendly dinner with the brothers. Joe uses his tuition money to bail his mother out because taking care of Jeremy is her responsibility.

Carl agrees to allow Joe to write his dying declaration after Joe promises to be honest. Upon learning that Joe plans to interview this monster, Lila convinces him to obtain copies of the trial transcripts so he can tell the whole story. Although Carl signs the release for Joe to get the transcripts, his friend Virgil is irritated because he insists Carl is innocent. As Lila helps Joe with his research, she is appalled by Carl's crime, but after several more interviews, Joe has difficulty reconciling Carl's traditional upbringing with the vicious murderer depicted in the trial transcripts. He meets with Virgil who shares a story about Carl saving his life in Vietnam.

Joe receives a call from his mother's landlord after Jeremy nearly burns down their apartment because their mother left him alone for several days. While caring for his brother, Joe is furious to find bruises left behind by Larry, his mother's boyfriend. He buys a cell phone for Jeremy to call him if anyone tries to hurt him again. When his mother returns, Joe lectures her about her responsibilities, but she seems indifferent.

As they continue their research, Joe and Lila are intrigued by Crystal's coded diary entries which were never deciphered and which could prove Carl's innocence. In exchange for Carl's promise of honesty, Joe confides about watching Grandpa Bill die, an event he blames on himself. Carl suggests Joe look for the anomalies in the trial photos, and Lila discovers a face in a window in the picture taken before the fire department arrived, forcing her to accept the possibility that Carl was wrongfully accused.

When Joe questions Carl about saving Virgil's life, Carl admits that he saw it as a righteous sacrifice and a way to commit suicide without damning his soul; however, he also tells Joe the story about Sergeant Gibbs raping and killing a girl in Oxbow. After deciding to interrogate Crystal's boyfriend, stepfather and stepbrother, Joe and Lila begin with Andy Fisher who tells them about Lila losing her glasses when they stole and crashed a car from her stepfather's car lot. While seeing a play with Lila, Joe is haunted by the similarities to his personal life. After Lila is taunted as Nasty Nash at the pub, she explains her past promiscuity to Joe who comforts her.

Joe's mother leaves Jeremy at Joe's apartment so she can take a trip with Larry. As Lila and Jeremy discuss typing, she makes a connection between a typing lesson and Crystal's coded diary entries, breaking the code to reveal that Lila was blackmailed and raped by DJ who they assume to be her stepfather, Douglas Joseph. They share their findings with Detective Max Rupert who, unwilling to reopen the case without more evidence, directs them to Professor Boady Sanden. Professor Sanden warns that it is unlikely that Carl will be exonerated before his death without a confession.

Determined to clear Carl's name, Joe visits Douglas who knocks him out and kidnaps Joe with the intent of dumping his body under the ice in a river. Fortunately, Joe escapes and hides in a cabin during the snowstorm. However, when he makes his way to a nearby farmhouse, the sheriff arrests him. Then, Rupert picks Joe up. Rupert believes Douglas is guilty, but he has disappeared and his farmhouse has been burned to the ground. Rupert warns Joe of the investigation since this dangerous man has his wallet. Sanden is able to prove that a DNA sample under Crystal's nail did not belong to Carl. Since Douglas is missing, Joe decides to obtain a sample from Danny because he shares his father's DNA.

At Dan's house, Joe and Lila are surprised when Mrs. Lockwood refers to her husband as DJ. After fleeing when he returns, they steal trash that night in hopes of obtaining a DNA sample from one of his cigarette butts. On the drive home, Joe receives a call from Jeremy because Larry hit him. Joe rescues his brother and invites him to live with him, chiding their mother for her lack of concern for her children. After leaving Lila and Jeremy at the apartment, Joe returns home to receive a call from Dan who has kidnapped Lila.

Dan offers to exchange Lila for his trash, and Joe drives off to meet him, knowing that Dan plans to kill them both. He uses Jeremy's phone to alert Detective Rupert, but he fears the call went to voicemail. At the farm, Joe tries to attack Dan who shoots him in the thigh and ties him up to make him watch what he plans to do to Lila; however, Rupert and several other officers lurk in the shadows and kill Dan at their first opportunity. Carl is overjoyed when he learns that he has been exonerated, but he dies that night in his sleep. At the funeral, Virgil praises Joe for clearing his friend's name. At coffee with Rupert and Sanden, Joe and Lila learn that Dan's DNA solved several other murders, and they are entitled to $120,000 in rewards; Joe is thrilled to find that he can now afford to take care of his brother and continue his education.

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