Joe Talbert has never met his father; his mother is a bipolar alcoholic; and his younger brother is autistic. Joe works two part-time jobs to save money while attending a community college. He escapes his troubles by transferring as a junior to the University, which is two hours away.
Joe’s first English class assignment is to write a biography of a stranger. He decides the best place to start is at a nursing home, where he meets Carl Iverson—a dying Vietnam veteran and convicted murderer. As Joe spends time with Carl, he starts questioning the events that led to Carl’s conviction.
With the help of his neighbor, Lila, Joe looks into the trial transcripts and photos of the crime scene. Before long, he’s as interested in finding the real killer and getting the conviction overturned as he is in getting Carl’s biography written. Lila and Joe track down clues and people from the trial while weaving their way through the legal system, but time is running out for Carl, whose health is deteriorating rapidly.
As Joe and Lila try to uncover the truth, Joe struggles with his mother’s illness and guilt over leaving his brother in her care. Constantly being called back into the family drama that he’s fought so hard to leave behind, Joe realizes he may eventually have to give up his dreams of a college degree for his brother’s sake. But, his determination to clear Carl before the man dies puts Joe’s life, as well as his education, at risk.
Kudos and five stars to Allen Eskens for this intriguing debut, a combination coming-of-age and murder mystery. The complex characters are well-developed, and their paths to redemption, along with twists and turns, makes this a compelling read to the end.
FTC Full Disclosure: A review copy of this book was provided by its publisher.