Joe Talbert, the hero of Eskens's masterful debut, has worked hard to earn the money to leave home and pursue an education at the University of Minnesota, but his alcoholic mother, who's unable to provide proper care for his autistic brother, keeps demanding his money and time. Joe's life takes a harrowing turn when he visits a nursing home in Richfield, Minn., in search of a subject for a class assignment—to write a person's biography. Joe chooses one of the only patients not affected with dementia, Carl Iverson, who, he soon discovers, was convicted decades earlier of the murder and rape of a 14-year-old girl. Recently paroled after serving 30 years of a life sentence because he's dying of pancreatic cancer, Carl agrees to tell Joe his story. Prodded by Lila Nash, his attractive college student neighbor, Joe immerses himself in the crime and Carl's trial. As Joe learns more about the events of the murder, he is faced with several threats to his own safety, yet refuses to give up his pursuit of the truth. More complications ensue, until the novel's satisfying resolution.