The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

Interviewing a convicted rapist and murderer? My school assignments were never this interesting…

“His dying declaration……that’s what he called it. It’s a statement that’s true because you don’t want to die with a lie on your lips.”

4/5 stars.
Read from September 9, 2017 to September 11, 2017.
ebook, 303 pages.

I don’t even remember how I came across this book, perhaps a Book Riot reading recommendation? I think that’s it. I just know that when I read the description that I just HAD to read it and eagerly put it on hold at the library. I waited and waited until my turn came round to borrow the book. I was not disappointed.

Joe grew up with a less than ideal childhood, with an absent father and an alcoholic mother, but Joe is determined to put himself through college and get away from it all as best as he can. However, his mother keeps dragging him back with her negligence to take care of his severely autistic brother. Joe has had to grow up too fast and is still playing the unwilling role of a parent in his family. He loves his brother and would do anything for him, even if it means sacrificing his own ambitions and dreams.  However, everything changes for Joe during one seemingly harmless school assignment.

Joe is going to interview and write about the life of Carl Iverson, a Vietnam war veteran and convicted rapist and murderer. Carl is living out the remaining days of his life outside of prison in a nursing home as he slowly dies of cancer. As Joe interviews Carl he starts to see that Carl is not what he seems and he begins to unravel a mystery that pushes him to uncover the truth.  Desperate to discover the truth before Carl dies, Joe realizes the risks of uncovering it and as the stakes get higher and higher, Joe comes to find that learning the truth always comes at a price.

“No matter how hard you try, there are some things you just can’t run away from.”

It is hard to know where to start with this book as it sinks its teeth into you from the first page. The plot starts with a solid piece of fiction and evolves into a full-fledged mystery-thriller with an action-packed ending I did not see coming.  There is even a touch of romance as Joe gets his roommate Lila involved in the case.  The main theme that plagues all the characters is guilt, each of them carrying their own silent burden until they come together and unearth each of their own truths.  The characters grab you and do not let go, even long after the book is finished. The authors writing style is concise and high readable, even if he did misspell Farrah Fawcett’s last name wrong that one time.  This typo did not bother me in the slightest which, for me, is a highly peculiar reaction to an editorial mistake. I was too involved in the story to give a damn.

This debut novel has won numerous awards and this book has been worthy of them all.  It also looks like there is a movie in development that has a potential release date set for some time in 2018 release. So get a copy of this book now before the movie poster editions of the novel are released!

Overall, I did not want to put this book down and it may well be a contender for one of the best books I have read in 2017. This book has a little something for everyone and I would recommend to just about any reader looking for a memorable story.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

“I thought that Mr. Clutter was a very nice gentleman. I thought so right up to the moment that I cut his throat.”

3/5 stars.
Hardcover 343 pages.
Read from June 6, 2017 to June 13, 2017.

Said to be the first of its kind, In Cold Blood, was ground-breaking back when it was first published back in 1965 and was once considered the original non-fiction novel and a pioneer of the true-crime genre.

The novel takes place in Holcomb, Kansas and follows Herb Clutter, a well respected and self-made man, and his family. On November 15, 1959, Herb, his wife Bonnie, and two of their children: Nancy and Kenyon were murdered. Each of them tied up before being individually executed with a shotgun. The police were at a loss as to who would have had a motive to kill such a well-to-do family. As the story unfolds, Capote describes the two fugitives in detail and just how the police were finally able to bring them to justice.

Dick Hickock, a young man with a normal upbringing was sadly disfigured in a car accident in 1950 and as a result of his head injuries he was never quite the same. He married and left numerous wives and children behind and quickly turned to petty crime after his family could not afford to send him to college. It was apparently Dick’s idea to rob the Clutter’s as he was tipped off by a convict that use to work for the Clutter’s claiming that the family kept a safe full of cash.

Perry Smith was a different sort of character. Perry suffered a horrific upbringing of physical and emotional abuse. His father was abusive and his mother was a drunk. After their mother left their father and then passed away from choking on her own vomit, Perry and siblings ended up in an numerous orphanages were they were further abused by caretakers. Two of Perry’s siblings committed suicide as adults. Perry served in the Korean war where injuries to his legs left him in constant pain which he often treated with copious amounts of aspirin. While it may have been Dick’s idea, it was Perry who carried through with the killings of the Clutter family.  With that, Perry’s character is still by far more sympathetic, as he comes across more honest and has even said that he stopped Dick from raping 16 year old Nancy before she was killed. Capote became close friends with Perry during the time that Capote spent interviewing him for the book and it has long be rumoured if there was anything more to the relationship.

“There’s got to be something wrong with us. To do what we did.”

While this book was generally well received a the time, there were some questions as to how concise certain characters and events were depicted. Capote’s long time friend and author, Harper Lee, was his research assistant for this book and contributed more than 150 pages of notes. While Lee was placed in the acknowledgements section of the book she was not credited for her research which, apparently left her with hurt feelings. While the two remained friends after the book’s publication, they grew apart.

Lee and Capote, 1966

Learning about the men who committed such an atrocious act was really intriguing. No wonder people were blown away by its content at the time. However, reading this book in the present day does not have the same effect, making it was easier to criticize Capote’s writing style. I found the novel to be dry and was curious as to how Capote could so easily say that everything her wrote was the absolute truth. The book reads very much like a story and so it is easy to forget that these atrocious murders actually took place and that you’re not just reading another mystery novel. Considering the writing style, it is also hilarious to me that anyone could have ever though that Capote helped Harper Lee write To Kill A Mockingbird, a long held belief that was debunked in one of Capote’s letters to his aunt.

Overall, the novel was decent for its psychological qualities depictions of the murderers but without the shock value of the content, it does not hold up to today’s standards. However, it is still an iconic book, and worth reading if you are true-crime fan or even a Harper Lee fan considering the long history of her friendship with Capote.


References:

http://time.com/4230925/harper-lee-truman-capote-friendship/

http://www.al.com/entertainment/index.ssf/2016/02/did_harper_lee_help_truman_cap.html

https://www.monroecountymuseum.org/#!myth-buster/ccb7

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_Cold_Blood

 

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

This novel is one of the best-selling novels of all time and has sold 100 million copies.

4/5 stars.
Paperback, 317 pages.
Read from June 4, 2017 to June 5, 2017

Ten little Soldier Boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were nine.
Nine little Soldier Boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were eight.
Eight little Soldier Boys travelling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were seven.
Seven little Soldier Boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were six.
Six little Soldier Boys playing with a hive;
A bumblebee stung one and then there were five.
Five little Soldier Boys going in for law;
One got in Chancery and then there were four.
Four little Soldier Boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were three.
Three little Soldier Boys walking in the zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were two.
Two little Soldier Boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was one.
One little Soldier Boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were none.

Originally published in 1939, And Then There Were None, is Agatha Christie’s masterpiece. The original title of the book was actually called Ten Little Niggers as the plot point revolves around the British blackface song by the same name. The book title was changed for the American audience and renamed after the last line of the rhyme. Any reference to ‘Indians” or “Niggers” in the book rhyme was changed to “Soldier Boys,” however the original title still remains in some foreign translations. This novel is one of the best-selling novels of all time and has sold 100 million copies.

It is the 1930s and eight strangers find themselves invited to a small and remote island off the Devon coast in England, each of them is invited under different pretences and circumstances, but all by an allusive Mr or Mrs Owen. As each of the strangers arrives on the island they are greeted by the two servants, and not by their host, which they find peculiar. They all shortly realize that it is only the ten of them on the island and that their hosts are now where to be found. After a short conversation between them, they come to realize that no one really knows who this Mr/Mrs Owns is as no one can recall directly meeting them.

As the guests explore their surroundings they find a copy of the nursery rhyme “Ten Little Soliders” in every room along with ten curious figurines in the main room.  The guests are greeted with an audio recording claiming that each of them has done something despicable in their lives and that they are going to pay for it. This message, along with the peculiar surroundings and circumstances, makes the guest feel very nervous. As they settle for dinner, one of the guests appears to choke and die, yet looks suspiciously like a poisoning. When they return to the main room they notice that one of the ten figurines is now missing.  The guests frantically realize that have been set up and are in some sort of sick vengeance or punishment game with no way of getting off the island. Who is the murdering vigilante? Will any of them survive? Are their pasts truly crimes worthy of death?

No wonder this novel is considered Agatha’s masterpiece! It is insanely suspenseful. Agatha’s misses nothing in building up the mystery of this book. From the emotional depth of the character’s back stories to their dynamic personalities and logical wherewithal to try and survive their curious and dire situation. It is not an easy mystery to solve either. Just when I thought I had it figured out the ending left me with my jaw hanging. I could not put this book down.

If you are a mystery lover and have not read this book then I suggest that you dash to your nearest book store, library or e-reader and get yourself a copy now. Even for those who do not like mystery or are first time Agatha Christie readers, read this book. It is short and awesome and you won’t regret it.