I stumbled upon this book as a happy accident. I was perusing books on Amazon and in the “Based on Your Purchase History” section I saw it, read the description, and decided to buy it. I am so glad I did.
What drew me to it was fact that the main character had an Autistic brother and I have an Autistic sister, so I was curious to see how the author would handle their relationship. He did an extremely good job of conveying the fear, protectiveness, and fierce love someone with an Autistic brother or sister feels toward their sibling. I also loved that he captured the weight of responsibility someone has when caring for a family member who is disabled, and the guilt that they have for feeling burdened by them at times.
The main character, Joe Talbert, is a college student who is desperate to make a better life for himself than the one he grew up in. He has a very tumultuous relationship with his alcoholic mother, feels the weight of responsibility for his eighteen year old Autistic brother Jeremy, and his father has been absent his whole life. From a young age he had to be a parent to not only his brother, but also his mother, who would be gone for days at a time and the responsibility fell on Joe to find her and drag her back home from whatever bar she was holed up in.
Always busy with class and working the door at a local bar, he finds himself increasingly close to his deadline for an assignment for which he has to find someone older and write a brief biography. Without anyone in his life to interview, he decides to head to a local nursing home, Hillview Manor, and ask if he can interview one of the residents there. Based on the notion that the residents there have led long lives, he thinks surely they would have lots of stories they would be willing to share with him. At first, the receptionist he speaks with is reluctant to let Joe meet with any of their residents, reasoning that the majority have dementia or severe memory loss and wouldn’t be able to share what little memories they have left.
Joe persists and asks to speak with the director of the home, and it is then that the receptionist suggests that he could speak with a resident by the name of Carl Iverson. The director quickly dismisses the idea, telling Joe that Carl is a convicted rapist and murderer who has served thirty years in prison and has only recently been paroled due to the fact that he is dying of cancer and only has months to live. However, since Carl is simply a resident and not a prisoner she cannot deny him visitors. After hearing this, Joe is reluctant to pursue this any further, but due to his deadline he asks the director to speak with Carl and convey his request for the interview and call him when she has an answer, to which she agrees.
Upon leaving Hillview Manor, Joe is called back home when things start to spiral out of control with his mother as they have many times before. His mother is arrested for a DUI, and again Joe is responsible for the care of his brother, which will seriously inhibit his ability to attend classes and work. Joe brings Jeremy back to his apartment and sets him up with his favorite movie of the moment and tries to get back to work on his assignment. Later, Joe comes home to find his attractive female neighbor, Lila, watching Jeremy’s favorite movie with him and connecting with him in a way few people are able to do. Joe invites Lila to come back for dinner, and to his delight she agrees, but she makes it clear she is only doing so because she enjoys Jeremy’s company.
After being granted his request of the interview with Carl, Joe starts to research the rape and murder of Carl’s victim Crystal Marie Hagen on October 29, 1980. He finds out that Crystal was murdered and then set on fire in the shed on Carl’s property, which was next door to where she and her mother, step-father and step-brother had lived. He is able to obtain the transcript of the murder trial and sees the photos of the evidence presented by the prosecution, all of which seem to make it clear that Carl was indeed guilty of the heinous crime.
Joe goes back to Hillview Manor to begin his interview with Carl. Expecting to see a hardened criminal, he is taken aback when he sees a withered man who is quickly succumbing to his disease. He begins to talk to Carl, who is weary of Joe’s intentions, but agrees to tell him his story as long as Joe agrees to be truthful, telling him that he wants someone to know what really happened before he dies. Joe learns that Carl is not just the villain he appears to be, but he was also a decorated Vietnam war veteran and his only ally in life is his best friend Virgil, who served alongside him in the war.
After his first meeting with Carl, Joe is pulled back to his hometown to attend his mother’s hearing for her DUI where she is given the decision to either pay three thousand dollars to be released or can pay nothing but be hooked to an alcohol monitoring bracelet. Joe’s mother refuses the bracelet because she is adamantly unwilling to abstain from alcohol and cruelly tries to guilt Joe into paying the money, which will leave him unable to pay for school the next semester. However, if his mother doesn’t get released from jail, he will have to leave school to take care of Jeremy, so he pays the money and returns Jeremy and his mother home and heads back to school to at least finish this semester.
Joe continues to meet with Carl, who maintains his innocence, and delves deeper into the information he is able to obtain from Carl’s attorney. Although all of the evidence points to Carl as the perpetrator, he begins to see that there are discrepancies that make him start to believe that maybe Carl wasn’t guilty after all.
After another altercation with his mother and his mother’s new boyfriend who has begun abusing Jeremy, he brings Jeremy to live with him in his apartment near school. All the while Lila and Joe become closer, and she not only helps Joe with his research into Carl’s case but helps with the responsibility of caring for Jeremy.
The deeper Joe’s conversations with Carl become, and the more he learns about the murder of Crystal Hagen, he becomes increasingly doubtful that Carl could have committed the crime. Joe starts to reach out to those involved in the trial including Crystal’s boyfriend at the time, who was the last to see her alive, and her step-father who had allegedly been at the car dealership he owned the afternoon the murder took place.
Joe is bombarded with new information and theories and begins to believe in Carl’s innocence, which sets him on a dangerous path to finally find the truth after thirty years.
This book has amazing twists and turns and keeps you guessing until the very end. It’s very well written with rich characters and storylines, and is definitely a book that you have to set aside the time to read because it is extremely difficult to put down.
For anyone who is a fan of the thriller or murder-mystery genres, I highly recommend this book. Even if you aren’t a fan of those genres, it’s still an amazing story.
Hope you pick up a copy of your own and enjoy it for yourself!
Feel free to comment below with your thoughts or recommendations for more books to review or tweet me @etoland16.