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Defending Jacob: A Novel Paperback – September 3, 2013
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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
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.
*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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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The life of the Barber family is shattered by bits and pieces when what little evidence found at the crime scene points to Jacob as the killer. Jacob denies that he had anything to do with it, but because of a dark secret that Andy has kept from Laurie that he finally discloses, Laurie begins to doubt her son's honesty. One of the themes that "Defending Jacob" tackles is the idea of an inherited tendency for violent behavior such as the "murder gene." Nature and nurture play their separate parts, but is violence and murder in the DNA of Jacob?
Andy Barber must take leave of his ADA position while his son's trial before a grand jury is going on and he assigns himself as one of the defense lawyers. The prosecuting attorney is trying to be the lofty lawyer that he isn't, and is met with more objections than he can count. Before the end of Jacob's trial, a twist in the story occurs, but the biggest twist of all is at the end of the book.
"Defending Jacob" is narrated by the father, Andy Barber, and transcripts of parts of the trial have his voice, also. He tells the story looking on as more suspicions about his son and even evidence turn up, and he watches his wife Laurie become a shell of herself as she was before. Laurie becomes distant, suspicious of Jacob and loses so much weight that she never gains back. She is also angry that Andy refuses to see the flaws in Jacob that she sees. Slowly this once loving and close family is broken down over the course of the story and the ending has a shocking twist.
The characters in this book are people who could live next door, and who are worthy of the reader's care and concern. A lot is learned about them and their own families of origin as the book progresses. Since the author was an assistant district attorney before he starting writing full-time, the legal aspects of the story are compelling and accurate. Mr. Landay knows what he is writing about.
Even when things are going better for the Barber family, there is a dark feeling that hovers just above that doesn't leave when the book is put down. It is intrinsic throughout the story and makes it seem more like reality. In an interview with the author at the back of the book, he says he wanted this story to be one of those "what if" situations, and he met that goal with "Defending Jacob." The interview gives some information and insight into the author's writing, and there is also a list of questions for a study guide.
I found this to be quite a page-turner and not ever dull or slow. The court scenes were especially interesting and informative. The end will hit you like a brick wall.
Highly recommended for readers who like legal thrillers and mysteries and also literary fiction.
This mystery/courtoom drama gets some things right. The premise is interesting and the depiction of the legal process and its affect on the accused and his family, in particular. But the pace is very slow and the courtroom scenes are excruciatingly slow .. accurate maybe, but a real slog, for me at least. Further, and more damaging, there is a silly sideline about a 'murder gene' and we never really get to know Jacob or his mother, who are key figures in the story.
The ending is a knockout twist and the structure of the book is interesting, a story within a story. I liked that. I might read another book by this author, but I like mysteries with more action and tend to steer away from courtroom dramas and toward police procedurals. I got this book because the ratings were so high, and I can see why some people loved it, but for me it confirmed my preference for detective stories.