This is a perfect summer read. Or a winter storm by the fireplace read. Or a snappy fall afternoon read. This is a great read from page one to the end. Eskens layers a murder mystery, Vietnam, family drama, autism, guilt, romance, date rape, and cancer around a highly intriguing central character, Joe Talbert.
Joe is a college student who’s transferred from the local community college and works as a bouncer at night to pay the bills. His mother is a bipolar alcoholic who lives less than an hour away with his autistic younger brother. He’s never met his father. When his professor assigns a biography assignment, Joe seeks a subject at the local nursing home. When the director suggests Carl, a terminal cancer patient who’s been paroled from prison to die, Joe is intrigued and even more so when he learns Carl’s crime–the rape, murder, and attempted burning of his teenage neighbor.
As he works through Carl’s story, and the trial records that compose his supporting documents, his original conceptions about Carl, his cute neighbor, his brother, and the direction of his life are turned upside down. Nothing is what it seems and what everyone else can see he turns away from.
The bubble on the cover says “compulsively suspenseful.” Rarely do those blurbs accurately describe the book, but this one does. Often, thrillers trade suspense for character development–plot over character. Joe Talbert, however, is a memorable character who can push drunk guys out of a bar and cry at a production of The Glass Menagerie.
There’s an adorable note to the reader at the end that asks for reviews or to share with others if you’ve enjoyed the book–support for a debut author. I look forward to reading his subsequent work.