• The Life We Bury

  • By: Allen Eskens
  • Narrated by: Zach Villa
  • Length: 8 hrs and 23 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (59,176 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

College student Joe Talbert has the modest goal of completing a writing assignment for an English class. His task is to interview a stranger and write a brief biography of the person. With deadlines looming, Joe heads to a nearby nursing home to find a willing subject. There he meets Carl Iverson, and soon nothing in Joe's life is ever the same. Carl is a dying Vietnam veteran-and a convicted murderer. With only a few months to live, he has been medically paroled to a nursing home after spending thirty years in prison for the crimes of rape and murder.

As Joe writes about Carl's life, especially Carl's valor in Vietnam, he cannot reconcile the heroism of the soldier with the despicable acts of the convict. Aided by his skeptical neighbor, Lila, Joe throws himself into uncovering the truth. Thread by thread, he begins to unravel the tapestry of Carl's conviction. But as he and Lila dig deeper into the circumstances of the crime, the stakes grow higher. Will Joe discover the truth before it's too late to escape the fallout?

©2014 Allen Eskens (P)2015 Tantor

Critic Reviews

"More complications ensue, until the novel's satisfying resolution." ( Publishers Weekly Starred Review)

Editorial Review

The plot of The Life We Bury is obviously intriguing. But what brings this character-driven mystery to a new level is the narration by Zach Villa. His voice perfectly conveys the protagonist's mentality with a delivery that exemplifies the 'too-cool-to-care-but-actually-cares-a-little' attitudeLaura M., Audible Editor

What listeners say about The Life We Bury

Average Customer Ratings
Overall
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
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    37,608
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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Good listen!

For a bargain book, this was pretty good. I usually stick with cozy mysteries because I don't like the violence in normal ones, and this one does get pretty graphic. But the mystery was good, kept me listening (on 1.5 speed). I bought the book because it takes place in Minnesota, where I grew up, and where else am I going to read, "The tufts of hair stood out of my head in all directions, like I'd been cowlicked by a drunken heifer" but in a book taking place in the midwest?

The main character, Joe, was likable from the beginning, he just had this authentic feel to him, and when I found out his backstory, I liked him even more. The same is true with the girl who lived next door to him. They both had some baggage, but neither one of them let it get them down much, or if they did, admitted to themselves they were doing it and accepted that. That was kind of refreshing.

The relationship between Joe and his brother was really sweet and added a layer to the story that made it all that much more worth listening to.

The narrator was really good, perfect choice for the voice of Joe.

437 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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Flawless Narration


The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens is a great example of a novel enhanced by audible narration. The book is more than it would have been without Zach Villa, who is the voice of the main character, Joe. So impressive.

This is the story of Joe and his younger autistic brother who grew up with a worthless mother. The alcoholic mother becomes a ball and chain for Joe as he enters his adult life. Joe survives, though not without scars.

Joe's life is enhanced by meeting a convicted felon who is dying, and who agrees to tell Joe the the events surrounding his incarceration. A story he has never told before.

The Life We Bury is beautifully written, though predictable as far as a mystery goes. The conclusion, though no surprise, is exactly what the reader hopes it will be.

219 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Gripping

This book covers a lot of ground including alcoholism, autism, rape, murder, prison, cancer, hospice, Vietnam, PTSD, and young love. Suffice it to say I that I was impressed the author managed to fit so much into 8.5 hours of listening time. It's a coming of age story about college student Joe who, while coming to terms with serious family responsibilities, must also undertake what initially seems like a simple college assignment but soon opens a can of worms with enormous implications for a man dying of cancer. Wrong vs. right, death vs. life, guilt vs. innocence, the truth vs. deceit and misinformation, conviction vs. exoneration are some of the many themes that are skillfully interwoven throughout the story. Though much of the material was dark and heavy, the narrative was a also refreshingly light and funny at times.

The narrator did a really great job - his voice was perfect for the main character and he also seemed to nail the voices of the other characters.

It was hard to stop listening to and I look forward to more from both the author and narrator!

207 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
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Clichéd Story and Terrible Writing

Any additional comments?

I am baffled by the 5-star reviews.

The writing style is so sophomoric, I stopped listening twice to check that the book wasn't self-published. Seriously, was this a creative writing class project?

The author's style lacks any real imagery, and awkward similes abound. The narrator is constantly telling us about things instead of describing them as they happen, violating the "show, don't tell" rule. He tells us, "I heard a loud crack" instead of "there was a loud crack." Instead of feeling transported into the story while the author's voice disappears, you are left feeling like you are sitting across from some dude hearing a story secondhand. There is a laughable scene where the main character/college student is talking to the killer and is trying to be all Dirty Harry, spelling out the whole story like the last 45 seconds of an episode of Scooby Doo. You can't hold a girl's hand at a movie, then you're all, "are you feeling lucky, punk?" Um, okay.

The characters lack any real depth, and to attempt to make up for this, the author gives each character a cheesy, trite little back story as shorthand. The girlfriend? Rape victim - that's all you need to know. The mom? Typical irresponsible alcoholic who brings home dirtbag guys. The brother? Autistic - and the description of his autism is so stereotypical as to be offensive. The author just puts "maybe" in front of each of the kid's sentences and the narrator uses a dopey voice for him. The dialogue is stilted and clichéd throughout, and the author uses awkward, unnatural-sounding phrases.

The story itself is full of ridiculous improbabilities, plot holes, and insufficient explanations for the characters' actions.

Some college kid is assigned to write a biography for class, and he can't think of anyone he knows, so he walks into a nursing home and asks if they have any old people who are lucid enough to tell him their life story. Of course, the helpful lady at the front desk is like, "you know, we do have this one guy - he's a convicted rapist, murderer, and arsonist the local prison let out on compassionate release while he waits here to die of cancer - but I'd be happy to let a 21-year-old student he's never even met waltz right into his room and hang out with our resident killer, unsupervised! Huh? And has this woman ever heard of HIPPA?

The old man now wants to clear his name, even though he was previously not too cooperative with his own lawyers. Our narrator Joe is just the guy for the job. Joe and his neighbor-turned-girlfriend get ahold of his case file and set off to interview the witnesses. Of course, after a very brief hesitation, everyone wants to talk to these kids and tell them things they held back 35 years earlier. Even though he's met this cop like twice in his life, the police officer steps in to get him off the hook in another jurisdiction and even drives him home. When one avenue for testing DNA is a no-go, it's not the cop, the lawyer, or the lab guys who come up with a work-around; it's a nurse at the nursing home. Of course, the wheels of justice turn very quickly for these characters and without any hearings. And do these kids ever actually go to school or work?

Somehow, this kid is MacGyver and Bruce Lee rolled into one. He uses found objects to sew a coat and make snow shoes, and he can kick the ass of anyone who upsets his girlfriend or touches his brother. We aren't really sure where he gets his skills, though, the descriptions of the fights he gets into are probably the most detailed scenes in the book. There's nothing psychological going on here, other than a few unnecessary flashbacks to grandpa's death.

Once our intrepid sleuths crack a coded message in the victim's diary, they have the initials of the real killer. They'll need DNA evidence to exonerate the old man, but the kid decides it would be easier if he just shows up on the suspected killer's doorstep to try to get a confession. But there's a (predictable, already been done) twist! Yawn.

This is my first Audible review, but I was so disappointed with this book, I felt I had to warn others.

192 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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Character driven mystery

Would you consider the audio edition of The Life We Bury to be better than the print version?

Each are good, but hearing the story was wonderful because it was in the first person and offered an emotional glimpse into the complex lives of the characters.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Life We Bury?

The ending, of course, but also Joe's the relationship with his brother. Touching and unique.

What does Zach Villa bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

He provided a real connection to the character, and offered enough diversity of voice that it was clear and easy to get emotionally entrenched in the story. Good job.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

Action and mystery based, but very emotional with regard to the characters. It was more a smile often and tears of sentiment.

Any additional comments?

Wonderfully crafted and written, with characters I want to see again! Good resolutions, but not trite at all. I'm recommending it to everyone!

187 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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One of the Best I've listened to in 15 years!

What did you love best about The Life We Bury?

The story was compelling. About a dying man who spent 30 years in prison, a student and friend who were driven to investigate and in mortal danger for their efforts, a great narrator who captured all the events of the lives in this complex story. Great listen, great story, very surprising end.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Life We Bury?

The end was entirely surprising.

Have you listened to any of Zach Villa’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, but will certainly look for more books by this narrator.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The emotional build up was amazing. The dying man's honesty, the student's family, mother, brother, revealed the character of this student. The girl friend who came along side the student. All were people with flaws, all were (accept the miserable mother) incredibly honest and likable.

Any additional comments?

I've been a listener since Audible came public in 1999 and this is without question one of the best books I've heard.

181 people found this helpful

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Good, easy read

This book had a little bit of romance,, little bit of a twist, good plot and the author was never confusing. Generally a good read, except two dark sub-plots that distrubed me as a reader. It had to be in the story, but was just a little darker than I like to be exposed to. A little foul language which might offend some people.

156 people found this helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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Figured it out but couldn't quit listening

This was a very well written and captivating story. I found it just reading other reviews and was quite pleased with the choice. The performance of the book was great also. I have to admit that I had the mystery figured out early in the book but it didn't make me want want to stop listening. I can't wait for this authors next piece

132 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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Not Your Average Thriller

This fast paced thriller was good because it was multidimensional with characters that were fully developed and explored through the story. So often, thrillers are peopled by cookie cutter characters and purposefully vague storytelling. Eskens does a good job telling a story that holds the interest and for the most part is believable. There were just a few bits that stretched my suspension of disbelief--but not enough to cause me to stop listening.

To me, the narration was good. The writing engaging. There was moderate amount of discussion and action involving violence and disturbing themes. Recommended if you like cold case style crime solving done by nonprofessional "detectives"/researchers. In the end, an attention grabbing page turner.

104 people found this helpful

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Excellent book! Loved it!

Listened to the audio version on a 2 day road trip which made the drive extremely enjoyable! We drove around for 15 minutes after we reached our destination to finish! Great characterization and plot. Would highly recommend this to any adult reader (some graphic language).

100 people found this helpful

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  • tracey24
  • 10-21-21

Brilliant

Loved this book. Excellent to listen to to and from work. Only flaw was the constant “I said” “he said”. I found this to be unnecessary. Other than that Amazing

2 people found this helpful

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  • Lee
  • 12-12-18

Buried Lives

This was an unexpected gem. A story full of characters which have depth and are believable.
A man lays dying and has spent many years in jail for a crime he may or may not have done. The race is on to get to the truth before he dies. Twists and turns abound lead to a remarkable ending. This book is excellent and not a word is wasted nor used as padding.
Narration is fantastic .... the beginning of a new series for me to enjoy.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Mr. Raymond L. Kingdon
  • 10-26-16

A most enjoyable story.

What did you like most about The Life We Bury?

The actual progression of the story with its twists and turns and changes in pace.
Narration was well-suited and warm; the tone and emphasis just right.

What did you like best about this story?

As above: twists and turns.

Which character – as performed by Zach Villa – was your favourite?

Characters complementary: wrong to single-out one character.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

Not possible.

Any additional comments?

On the look out for other works by the same writer and narrator.

2 people found this helpful

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  • paula
  • 06-22-16

The life we bury -review

This book is an excellent read, captivating the reader from start to finish. I thoroughly enjoyed the narrator however, his woman's voice was a little irritating. I would recommend this to someone who enjoys suspense and action novels with an interesting & compelling narrative.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Colette
  • 06-24-15

Compelling story

Well written and thought provoking with fully-fleshed out believable characters. An exciting story that gathers momentum relentlessly. Couldn't stop listening.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Sharon
  • 09-28-19

Beautiful story

I really enjoyed how the story unfolded. The narrator was perfectly suited. I can't wait to read another of Allen Esker books. This is a heartfelt story that shows through, understanding, compassion and listening to another, the truth does unfold.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Martine
  • 08-09-22

Great story, full of suspense and well written.

Loved it. This is definitely worth a read. Good to have this kind of genre so well written.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Juliet
  • 06-29-22

Same plot. different set-up

Ever get the feeling you keep reading the same old plot in different guises? It's the Groundhog Day of of mystery/crime/"thriller"/suspense: Ordinary guy with troubled background innocently stumbles into a situation, meets troubled girl. Both prove determined heroes for the misunderstood underdog. Throw in good old Vietnam for political empathy and they all live happily, however implausibly, ever after. Come on publishers, something different and original puleeeze! Give your readers some credit for having at least half a brain.

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  • ConstantReader
  • 06-18-22

Well paced and beautifully narrated

This book is quietly compelling and full of twists and turns, and well rounded characters. The narrator brought energy to the character development and kept me listening. A really enjoyable read

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  • Beverley
  • 11-02-20

Exceptional reading.

The narrator brought to life the feast of words that kept me captivated from start to finish. Descriptive, captivating and somewhat surprising with a well rounded ending. Well done. Would definitely recommend!

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  • elizabeth b.
  • 07-03-20

Loved it.

A terrific book. Fast and so enjoyable. A bit of romance and a enjoyable ending. Not too many bloody corpses yes I like this author.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-26-20

What a fantastic book

This book was stumbled upon after a recommendation. I’d never heard of this author.

Wonderful story with memorable characters. I’m very much looking forward to the sequel and more of Esken’s works. Great narration also.

Do yourself a favour. Give this a listen. You won’t be sorry.

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  • B. Rawlings
  • 08-27-19

Another Eskens hit! So addictive!

All of Allen Eskens' books are amazing. This one is no different. The narrration is a little dry at times, but the voice suits the main character well. Sometimes his "S"s can be a little too 'whistley' though and it gets uncomfortable to listen to, especially if you have the volume up high.

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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • Carol
  • 08-30-18

As enthralling as watching paint dry

This story along with the characters was one dimensional, with both being boring. I thought this would be a trip back in time learning about the life of the character in the nursing home; nope, just a snip and a tired well worn one at that. The characters were undeveloped and lacking in both intelligence and sophistication. I kept willing the story to begin, even when I was 33 chapters in. I fast forwarded through 6 of the last chapters; why the ending had to be so drawn out is a complete mystery to this listener.
The narrator’s monotone only added to the boredom of listening.

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  • Shane
  • 08-07-16

Edge of the seat

Although parts of the plot were slightly improbable and the ending was a neatly tied bow, I was mostly on the edge of my seat waiting to hear what would happen next in this story.
The narration by Zach Villa was excellent - a well modulated voice, great story telling ability and none of the characterisations grated.
I've listened to many audiobooks and this is the first one I just couldn't put down.

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  • Tereina
  • 05-31-16

Beautiful descriptive writing. Lovely detailed characters and great suspense

Lovely characters, well detailed. Loved the narrator and his own life story entwined in the suspense filled discovery of a tragic crime he walks into exposing.