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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2012: A fast, compelling, and compulsively readable courtroom drama, Defending Jacob tells the story of a district attorney’s son who is accused of killing a classmate. As the father attempts to prove his son’s innocence, Landay explores uncomfortable territory: can a tendency toward violence be inherited? Is the capacity for murder a genetic disposition? The author, a former district attorney, gets the taut nuances just right, capturing the subtleties of a trial in a packed courtroom, where a small rustle or murmur can signify a lot. In the end Landay pulls off a clever plot device that doesn’t reveal itself until the final pages. --Neal Thompson


Featured Guest Review: Chevy Stevens on Defending Jacob

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Still Missing and Never Knowing.

From the first few pages of Defending Jacob, I knew this book was special. More than an exciting courtroom drama that combines the best elements of a legal and psychological thriller, it also delves into the heart of a family, and will rip yours out in the process.

When a young boy is found brutally murdered in the woods in a peaceful New England town, his body hastily covered with leaves, the community is shaken to its core. No one more so than Andy Barber, a well-respected assistant district attorney whose fourteen-year-old son, Jacob, went to school with the boy. Sure, Jacob is a typical moody teenager, hiding in his room all day with his headphones and lap top, but Andy loves him more than anything in this world--and would do anything to protect him.

While Andy's wife, Laurie, struggles with the possibility that there's a killer on the loose and their own son could be next, Andy's determined to find the culprit and bring him to justice. He immerses himself in a maelstrom of angry parents demanding answers, police hell-bent on making an arrest, and the complicated lives of teenagers, with their own secrets, and reasons for keeping them.

When, in a stunning turn of events, Jacob is arrested for the crime, both Andy and Laurie are stalwart in their defense of their son: there's no way their child could've committed this terrible act. As more shocking facts are revealed and lies uncovered, Andy is pushed to the edge and his twenty-year marriage tested. Beautiful Laura, his college sweetheart and love of his life, begins to fade in front of his eyes, crumbling under the pressure of the trial, the public accusations, and the weight of her own doubts--in her son and her husband. When truths about Andy's past comes to surface, he must chose between the life he thought he'd left behind, and the father he wants to be.

Defending Jacob raises the question: how far would you go to protect your family? But it also leaves you wondering if anyone could answer that question, and whether we really know what we're capable of when push comes to shove.

Let's pray we never have to find out.

Featured Guest Review: Phillip Margolin on Defending Jacob

Phillip Margolin has been a Peace Corps Volunteer, a school teacher, and is the author of 15 New York Times bestsellers. He spent a quarter century as a criminal defense attorney during which he handled thirty homicide cases, including twelve death penalty cases, and argued at the United States Supreme Court. He is a co-founder of Chess for Success, a non-profit that uses chess to teach elementary school children study skills. His latest novel, Capitol Murder will be released in April, 2012.

One perk of being a bestselling author is that you are sent advance reading copies (ARCs) of books by first time authors, or published authors whose editors believe have written a breakout novel. The ARC is sent by the writer's editor in hopes that you will write a "blurb," which is a sentence or two praising the book that can be used in advertisements. The books I blurb range from fun reads to very good reads. Then there is the rare book that knocks my socks off. William Landay's Defending Jacob is one of these gems. It is a legal thriller, but so are To Kill a Mocking Bird, Snow Falling on Cedars and Anatomy of a Murder. Defending Jacob, like these classics, separates itself from the pack because it is also a searing work of literary fiction.

At the heart of Landay's exceptional novel is a parent's worst nightmare. Assistant district attorney Andy Barber, his wife, Laurie, and their teenage son, Jacob, are living an idyllic existence in a middle class Massachusetts suburb until one of Jacob's classmates is stabbed to death in the picturesque park where the locals jog, walk their dogs and picnic. It soon becomes clear that Jacob is the prime suspect and the Barbers have to confront the possibility that the child they have doted from birth may be a sociopathic killer.

Andy takes a forced leave of absence from his job and helps defend the son he loves from a charge he cannot believe is true. Is he engaging in self-deception? How far will he go to protect his family? Laurie wonders if something she did as a parent has created a monster and her guilt destroys her. And then there is Jacob. Is he a typical angst filled teenager or a psychopathic monster? Landay skillfully keeps the reader guessing about Jacob's culpability and true nature up to the shocking final chapters.

What makes Defending Jacob special is the way Landay gives the reader the twists, turns and surprises found in the best legal thrillers while making its centerpiece the tragedy faced by a normal family who are thrust into a nightmare.


--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* A 14-year-old boy is stabbed to death in the park near his middle school in an upper-class Boston suburb, and Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber takes the case, despite the fact that his son, Jacob, was a classmate of the victim. But when the bloody fingerprint on the victim’s clothes turns out to be Jacob’s, Barber is off the case and out of his office, devoting himself solely to defending his son. Even Barber’s never-before-disclosed heritage as the son and grandson of violent men who killed becomes potential courtroom fodder, raising the question of a “murder gene.” Within the structure of a grand jury hearing a year after the murder, Landay gradually increases apprehension. As if peeling the layers of an onion, he raises personal and painful ethical issues pertaining to a parent’s responsibilities to a child, to a family, and to society at large. Landay’s two previous novels (Mission Flats, 2003; The Strangler, 2007) were award winners, but he reaches a new level of excellence in this riveting, knock-your-socks-off legal thriller. With its masterfully crafted characterizations and dialogue, emotional depth, and frightening implications, the novel rivals the best of Scott Turow and John Grisham. Don’t miss it. --Michele Leber --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Audio CD: 10 pages
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.; Unabridged edition (January 31, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1455113549
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455113545
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 5.1 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7,532 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #590,947 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

William Landay's latest novel is the New York Times bestseller "Defending Jacob." His previous novels are "Mission Flats," which won the Dagger Award as best debut crime novel of 2003, and "The Strangler," which was an L.A. Times favorite crime novel and was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award as best crime novel of 2007.

Visit the author at www.williamlanday.com or on Facebook at facebook.com/williamlanday

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

883 of 923 people found the following review helpful By "switterbug" Betsey Van Horn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 24, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is as much a nuanced family drama, love story, and social inquisition as it is a murder/courtroom/legal thriller. If you can engage with the narrator, whose reliability or unreliability is a puzzle to piece together, you will be satisfied with this warm yet dark story of a community and family unhinged by a violent crime. The author is a former DA who is skilled at informing the reader about the law and procedure without telegraphing it. The narrative is even, polished, and intelligently observant of a community in shock, a family shattered.

I have relatives in Newton, Massachusetts, where this thriller takes place. It is an upscale community of educated professionals, whose children graduate from tony high schools and go on to Ivy League colleges. A fourteen-year-old boy stabbed to death in the park is incomprehensible to this insulated and well-heeled population. As prosperous as it is, there is also a provincial air to it, as like-minded families have always experienced security and safety here, and there is an expectation and history of benevolence. Violence is rare.

Jacob, the fourteen-year-old son of First District Attorney Andy Barber, is accused of murdering his classmate, Ben Rifkin. In Massachusetts, fourteen-year-olds charged with first-degree murder are tried as adults. Barber narrates the story with depth and dread, exposing some family secrets along the way, which could impact the case, and creates increasing internal trauma for his wife, Laurie. Their marriage has always been an ongoing love story; they met as freshmen in college and have loved each other unfailingly through the years. This event mires them in vulnerability and heavy exposure to the media, placing them under a public microscope. Do they really know their son?
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249 of 270 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on February 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
I have just spent the entirety of one night and part of another reading a remarkable novel called DEFENDING JACOB. It's been a while since William Landay has graced the bookshelves with his presence, and his latest is quite different from his last effort, THE STRANGLER. While both books deal with family dynamics and loyalty, DEFENDING JACOB hits uncomfortably but unerringly close to home, as compelling a work as you are likely to pick up this year.

The basic premise of the book is deceptively simple. A 14-year-old boy named Jacob Barber, is accused of the murder of Ben Rifkin, one of his middle-school classmates. Jacob's father, Andy, has been an Assistant District Attorney for 22 years in the quiet Boston suburb that the family calls home. Andy does not consider his job a stepping stone to higher office; he is content to simply do the best job he can. So when Ben's body is first discovered, Andy takes charge of the initial investigation, working with the police in directing the gathering of evidence. But the investigation seems to proceed slowly, almost from the beginning, and when what evidence there is appears to point to Jacob as the killer, Andy is removed from the case and placed in the position of defending his son from the charges that, from his viewpoint, are most certainly false. In his mind, there can be no other conclusion.

Jacob's guilt or innocence is unknown throughout most of DEFENDING JACOB. But what is a certainty is that all is not right. Andy is a smart and experienced prosecutor who knows all too well how evidence can be wrongfully construed. Accordingly, he goes through Jacob's things, hiding this and destroying that and concealing the other.
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562 of 651 people found the following review helpful By Darcia Helle VINE VOICE on January 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
For me, this book had highs and lows. I'll start with the good stuff. The plot tackles multiple issues, expertly woven together, and laid out for us to ponder. At the heart of the story is the controversial topic of the `murder gene' and whether the propensity for violence is in our DNA. We question whether our family history changes how people perceive us. And, along with the characters, we wonder how far we would go to protect our child.

Now for the not so good stuff. I did not always find the parents, the father in particular, believable. He stumbles upon a few red flags with his son's activities, yet he never once confronts his son about these things. His character is a bit too much of an ostrich, sticking his head in the sand and pretending all is well. The characters aren't well-developed and I didn't connect well with any of them.

The biggest disappointment for me is the pace of the story. It drags. We spend a lot of time in the narrator's head and his thoughts become repetitive. The trial begins about 2/3 through the book and the pace slows to a crawl. We read long snippets of the trial transcript. Everything is rehashed for us in trial format, but none of the information is new. The experience left me feeling disconnected and bored, rather than involved or on the edge of my seat in suspense. By the time I arrived at the twist at the end, which should have been stunning, I breathed a sigh of relief that it was over.
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48 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 31, 2012
Format: Hardcover
These days, lawyer-and-courtroom books are a dime a dozen. Fortunately, Defending Jacob is no ordinary lawyer-and-courtroom book. It's smart, suspenseful, and a downright insightful look into an ordinary family that is on the road to implosion. Along the way, it has much to say about teenage angst, psychology, the latest genetic techniques, social media, family dynamics and more. Put another way, it's a work of literary fiction as well as a page-turning thriller.

Andy Barber is the first assistant district attorney with a attractive and empathetic wife, Laurie, and a typically moody teenage son, Jacob. He is also the holder of a secret: his father and grandfather were both arrested for violent murder. Suddenly, he is forced to face a parent's worst nightmare. His son's classmate is stabbed to death and gradually, the circumstantial evidence against his own son is overwhelming. This master of self-control and self-delusion is forced to consider whether the son he loves to distraction is capable of a heinous murder.

Is Jacob simply a teenager going through the usual throes of angst and alienation or is he the cold-blooded killer that the prosecutor portrays? How far will Andy go and what will he sacrifice to protect his beloved son? Some of the plot twists are a bit reminiscent of The Bad Seed, a 1954 novel by William March that was turned into an Academy-Award-nominated film with a "nature versus nurture" examination. But will the story end up the way that The Bad Seed did? Linday is smart enough to keep a kernel of doubt in his readers' minds.

This author excels in creating "teenspeak" dialogue. His teenagers - from Jacob himself to Derek Yoo, his best friend who turns to the prosecution, to Jacob's schoolmates - are so real they could step off the pages.
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