Book Reviews by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor
"The Life We Bury" by Allen Eskens; Seventh Street Books, October 2014
"The Guise of Another" by Allen Eskens; Seventh Street Books, October 2015
Allen Eskenshas written two mystery/suspense thrillers, both set in Minnesota, which will keep readers absorbed from start to finish.
A criminal defense lawyer in Mankato, Eskens earned degrees from the University of Minnesota and Hamline Law School. On his website, Eskens talks about his path to becoming a writer and points to his first grade report card from St. Peter Elementary in Jefferson City, Missouri. His teacher, Sister Ronald Marie, wrote "Allen dreams too much when work is to be done in school." Eskens believes he was making up stories in his head while day-dreaming back then. When he wrote his first short story for a high school assignment, his teacher asked if he had thought about writing to get published. That thought stayed with him; two gripping novels, with a third one to follow in October, are the result.
In "The Life We Bury" college student Joe Talbert has left a dysfunctional mother and autistic brother behind in southern Minnesota to attend the University of Minnesota. In his English class, he has been given a writing assignment to interview and then tell someone's life story. Talbert randomly chooses Carl Iverson, a resident at a nearby nursing home, who is dying of cancer. Iverson happens to be a convicted murderer who has only a few months to live, having been medically paroled to die in the nursing home rather than prison. While interviewing Iverson, Talbert becomes convinced of Iverson's innocence and embarks on his own investigation to determine what really happened more than thirty years ago when Iverson was convicted of raping and murdering his fourteen-year-old neighbor girl.
Eskens does a masterful job of weaving Talbert's family woes, Iverson's past, and the old criminal investigation with a developing romantic relationship. The novel moves at a fast pace and has great character development and an intriguing storyline.
"The Guise of Another" opens with a fatal car crash in which James Putnam dies. Detective Alexander Rupert is asked to investigate; the real James Putnam is reported to have died a number of years ago. Rupert, a Minneapolis detective who is under suspicion of corruption and has been reassigned to the Frauds Unit, explores this case of identity theft which turns out to be complex and dangerous. Rupert ends up crossing paths with a trained assassin who has been searching for Putnam for years. Hoping to improve his reputation and status within the department, Rupert does everything he can to solve the mystery of James Putnam.
Eskens' second novel is a little racy and edgier and more violent than his first book. Ruthless killing, blackmail, corruption and infidelity are all part of this page-turner. A number of twists keep readers wondering what will happen next. Interestingly, Max Rupert, Alexander Rupert's brother, is the homicide detective who helps Joe Talbert in "The Life We Bury." Max has a much bigger role in "The Guise of Another."
Both of Eskens' novels are compelling and smart. The suspense and drama will keep readers engaged from beginning to end.