Fans of Allen Eskens have waited five years for the sequel to Edgar-nominated The Life We Bury. The Shadows We Hide came out in November 2018. In Eskens first Edgar-nominated novel, The Life We Bury, Joe Talbert was a college student trying to finish school while taking care of Jeremy, his autistic brother. His mother is an addict who is on and off again in jail and enmeshed with various abusive men. As a college student, Joe must interview someone and write a biography. He interviews an elderly convicted murderer recently released to a nursing home to die. As Joe gathers the information for his assignment, he discovers many holes in the prosecution’s arguments at trial and as he probes further, becomes a target for a myriad of other shady characters.
In the second book, Joe Talbert is a cub reporter for the Associated Press. He has recently written a damning story about a state Senator accused of domestic abuse and the paper is getting sued. He is put on leave while the paper sorts out the damage. Joe stumbles across the story of a Joe “Toke” Talbert recently murdered in a small town in Southern Minnesota though he has never met his namesake. He leaves his girlfriend Lila in charge of Jeremy while she studies for the bar exam and heads to Buckley to investigate whether this man might be his father. When he arrives, he learns that no one has anything good to say about Toke. His wife committed suicide shortly before his death, and his daughter, Angel is in the hospital after a recent suspected suicide attempt. Prior to his death, Toke was involved in a dispute over his deceased wife’s inheritance. If Joe proves to be Toke’s son, he could be a millionaire. He could also have another sibling to care for — if Angel survives. Joe unwittingly becomes the target of Toke’s brother, Charlie, who has his eyes on the inheritance and custody of Angel so that he can get his hands on her money.
All of these elements make for a great mystery – but what makes Eskens work stand apart is his language, character development, and deeper themes, elevating his work to the literary level. In the Talbert novels, Eskens delves into Joe’s struggle with guilt – guilt over leaving his brother with his girlfriend while she studies for the bar, guilt over suing his neglectful mother for custody of his brother, and guilt over his attraction to a local waitress who seems to have more information than anyone about his father’s death and his sister’s attempted suicide.
Allen Esken’s next book, Nothing More Dangerous is scheduled to be released November 12 and he tells me that the title comes from a Martin Luther King quote, “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” Listen to my interview with Allen on WTIP’s Superior Reads on May 23 at 7:00 pm and watch for registration to open up in June for the North Shore Readers and Writers Festival November 7-10 on the Grand Marais Art Colony website. Allen will be presenting two sessions at Readers and Writers Festival this year.