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Defending Jacob: A Novel Hardcover – January 31, 2012
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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.
Top Customer Reviews
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?Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
I'd not read the two "crime novels" that William Landay has previously written (both received awards), but I'm drawn to the genre and most certainly will read them now. "Defending Jacob" draws you in and refuses to allow you to let go before you finish it. Would that I'd gotten it on Kindle so that I could have traveled easily with it and grabbed spare moments while waiting for the valet, in line at the coffee shop, etc.
Landay sets his novel in familiar territory, as he has worked in courtrooms in the Boston area. In a more or less typical suburb, Newton, the town is shocked by a tragedy of a 14 year old boy, Ben Rifkin, murdered before school starts in a local park that is the venue of joggers and kids walking to school. First Assistant DA Andy Barber takes the case for himself when the call comes in and goes directly to the crime scene.
But the book does not begin there. Instead, in the beginning, and throughout the novel, Landay starts the book with Barber (the "Witness") testifying before a grand jury to his nemesis, ADA Neal Logiudice. Throughtout the novel, as the grand jury testimony is layered into the story of Ben Rifkin's murder (standing out easily, as the author used significantly different form and type to separate it from the ongoing crime tale) the reader wonders whether the confrontation between
Barber and Logiudice is real or imagined, and, if so, in what context.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I did not care for the foul language in this book. Besides that it was very different and the end definitely caught me by surprise.Published 21 hours ago by Tlboo
A captivating novel that sucks you in from page one. Suspenseful, thought provoking, and intense. I couldn't put it down. I look forward to reading more from William Landay. Read morePublished 2 days ago by Krispix7
If you like court room drama you'll like this book. It kept me coming back right up to the surprising ending.Published 2 days ago by CDG
Repetitive and in remarkable. The twists at the end tried to make up for this. Not in time for me .Published 3 days ago by Susan Oksenendler
Book has an ending that surprised me. Not at all what I expected. This book will "last" with me a while. Highly recommended. Speaks to some issues of our time.Published 4 days ago by Thinker
A real "page turner!" I couldn't put the book down and read into the wee hours of the morning just to finish it. Had been meaning to read Defending, Jacob, for a while... Read morePublished 5 days ago by Amazon Customer