A struggling student’s English assignment turns into a mission to solve a 30-year-old murder.
Joe Talbert has had very few breaks in his 21 years. The son of a single and very alcoholic mother, he’s worked hard to save enough money to leave his home in Austin, Minnesota, for the University of Minnesota. Although he has to leave his autistic younger brother, Jeremy Naylor, to the dubious care of their mother, Joe is determined to beat the odds and get his degree. For an assignment in his English class, he decides to interview Carl Iverson, a man convicted of raping and killing a 14-year-old girl. Carl, who maintains his innocence, is dying of cancer and has been released to a nursing home to end his life in lonely but unrepentant pain. The more Joe learns about Carl—a Vietnam vet with two Purple Hearts and a Silver Cross—the more the young man questions the conviction. Joe’s plan to write a short biography and earn an easy A turns into something more. Even after his mother is arrested for drunk driving and guilt-trips Joe into ransacking his college fund to bail her out, he soldiers on with the project, though her irresponsibility forces him to take Jeremy into his care. But it’s his younger brother who cracks the code of the long-dead murder victim’s secret diary and an attractive neighbor, Lila Nash, who has her own agenda for helping Joe solve the mystery, whatever the risk.
Eskens’ debut is a solid and thoughtful tale of a young man used to taking on burdens beyond his years—none more dangerous than championing a bitter old man convicted of a horrific crime.