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Showing 1-10 of 6,665 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 8,425 reviews
One morning, on the way to school, a 14-year old bully is murdered. The story is narrated by Andy Barber, the Asst. District Attorney who takes on the case -- until his son Jacob, the victim's classmate and a victim of his bullying, is accused of the crime.

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.
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on June 20, 2017
The majority of reviews give this book 5 stars. I must admit, I was angry with the ending and sorry I spent so much time reading this book. Yes, it is a surprise ending but I thought there would be a twist as to who did it. We never get into the head of Jacob. Maybe had I not heard so much about the "surprise ending", I might have appreciated it more.
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William Landay's DEFENDING JACOB is pretty much a retelling of Rosellen Brown's 1993 novel BEFORE AND AFTER (which inspired the film of the same name, starring Meryl Streep and Liam Neeson). Both novels are about respected parents whose teenage sons are charged with the murder of a classmate. Both explore the horrors of suddenly finding oneself in the spotlight, trying desperately to believe in the innocence of a beloved child while nagging doubts keep threatening to break through the resolve. In both novels, the accused teen is named "Jacob." And both novels use the terms "Before" and "After" (with capital letters) to describe life before and after a tragedy. But Landay hasn't stopped there - he throws in a healthy dose of William March's suburban horror novel, THE BAD SEED, giving DEFENDING JACOB another level of mystery. Is fourteen-year-old Jacob guilty of murdering the boy who had been bullying him? And if he IS guilty, is it because of his family's history of violence and bloodshed? Is there really such a thing as a "murder gene" which predisposes some of us to the kind of unrestrained viciousness that can result in murder?

DEFENDING JACOB is told primarily from the first person perspective of ADA Andy Barber, Jacob's father, who finds himself investigating the very murder his son is ultimately accused of committing. Barber is certain Jacob is innocent, but the reader isn't so sure - Jacob is a sullen, disagreeable teenager with a history of anti-social behavior as a young child (kids just seemed to get hurt around Jacob, his mother says). The victim, Jacob's classmate Ben, seems even more disagreeable - he's portrayed as a cruel bully who had been systematically harassing Jacob for months before the murder. Andy and his wife, Laurie, respond to their legal nightmare as we might expect - he knows the legal system, so he can't trust the courts to exonerate his son, and she's obsessed with the idea that something they may have done as parents (like putting Jacob into daycare when he was a baby) might have trigged anti-social behavior. Add to that the shocking truth that Andy's father and grandfather were both cold-blooded murderers, and we have to worry that maybe Jacob is a demon after all, a heartless narcissistic psychopath without any compassion for his fellow human beings. Is this genetics at work, or is Jacob really just an average teenager - after all, aren't they all a bit narcissistic and detached?

Woven through Andy's narration are excerpts from Grand Jury testimony that apparently happened after Jacob's trial was resolved - the new ADA is interrogating Andy about elements of the case, about Jacob, and about Andy's behavior during the trial. It's not clear until very late in the novel what these excerpts are all about (which makes them a bit confusing and distracting - they interrupt the story itself in a way that becomes annoying). Once we understand what's really going on, Landay throws us a twist that, while not totally unexpected (I've read THE BAD SEED), is more than a bit over the top. Characters do things in the last few chapters of this novel that are absolutely absurd. I was with Andy and Laurie through most of the trial, and I was even willing to give Jacob the benefit of the doubt (I've raised two teenage boys myself, and a surly tone does not a murderer make), but in the end all three behave in ways that simply make no sense. I get that Landay wanted a killer finale (both literally and metaphorically), but this one just made me shake my head in disbelief. It's out there, no doubt about it. But it doesn't work with the rest of the novel.

I liked DEFENDING JACOB until the last forty pages; thus the three stars. But a bad ending can seriously undermine even the best of novels. If you liked BEFORE AND AFTER, you'll probably like this one as well. And if you've read THE BAD SEED (or seen the 1956 movie version) you'll be prepared for the ending. Overall, not a bad read. It was just ultimately disappointing on several levels.
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on March 6, 2017
This was an interesting book. I don't think I'd read it again though. It was an easy read as the writing was very good. The story it's self was hard to handle at the end. As a parent it was difficult for me to grapple with. It was a definite page turner. If you like amazing writing along with a story that will leave an imprint on you once you're done, this is the book for you. I gave it a 5 star just because the writing it's self was so well done.
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VINE VOICEon September 30, 2014
William Landay, author of "Defending Jacob," combines his background as an assistant district attorney with great insight to create a novel that involves the reader with a family in emotional turmoil. If, as the author contends, crime stories tell us more about ourselves than about criminals, the reader will deeply experience being the accused and the futility and frustration of innocence fighting the justice system.

The narrator, Andy, has known the success of being a respected assistant district attorney. He is a good man, a loving father and husband, with a loyal circle of friends and a comfortable lifestyle. His wife, Laurie, is delightful, a great mother, a loving companion for Andy, and enjoys a large circle of devoted friends. Jacob, their teenage son, is a typical child of the times, occasionally flippant, independent, and somewhat unsociable and selective in his choice of friends. There is an evident strong family bond.

Early morning, on a school day, a classmate of Jacob's is murdered in a local park, the victim of a stabbing. A series of events, both prior to and following the killing; reported bullying of Jacob by the victim, Jacob displaying a knife to a friend, some blood reportedly on one of Jacob's hands, and a story written and posted on the internet by Jacob describing the killing in detail, leads to his arrest for the murder and a subsequent trial. There's another suspect who is released when the investigation zeroes in on Jacob. Andy never dismisses him as the killer.

Andy's faith in his son is unshakeable. He absolutely knows Jacob is innocent, as does Laurie, although as the case progresses she begins to be tortured with the idea that perhaps Jacob is involved. Events that occur both during the trial and outside the courtroom are wonderfully created and described by the author to the point that the reader is thoroughly immersed in and distraught by the story.

The novel is mostly dialogue, involving intense conversation and extensive courtroom testimony. Landay does a remarkable job of making verbal exchange be the vehicle on which emotion and storyline are carried. Andy does a lot of internalizing of thoughts, theories, and feelings and his inner turmoil is obvious. So is his position. He is standing with Jacob without hesitation. He also observes changes that are occurring in Laurie and Jacob, as well as shifts in his relationship with his acquaintances, all of which troubles him.

I was emotionally affected by this story. The frustration and feeling of helplessness that affects the Barber family is realistically portrayed and conveyed to the reader. It is painful. Worrying about your child, having doubt creep into your faith, and even sensing fear, is crippling and, I believe, is presented most effectively by the author. This is a book that should not be missed and William Landay is an author to watch.

Schuyler T Wallace
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on August 24, 2017
This book is very well written, so that is certainly not the reason for the three star rating. I have given it a three star rating because of the representation of the primary female character. It's ridiculous! She's a mindless idiot for most of the book. At the end, her personality has totally changed. Part of that is to be expected, without giving out any details here. I don't want to spoil this for anyone. Additionally, the ending left me so annoyed. It felt like being taken to a cliff and simply dropped without warning. Really?
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on March 24, 2017
I enjoyed this book. I finished over the course of several days. It was a page turner in that I kept reading until I finished but not in one sitting. It had some similarities to John Grisham but the narrator was more directly involved in the life of the accused so it was a different perspective than a John Grisham novel. I would read something by this author again. It was entertaining and not too predictable. I have the tendency to figure out some mystery stories before the ending and this one had some predictabilities and foreshadowing but the foreshadowing didn't give the ending away. I was surprised but not shocked.
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VINE VOICEon June 27, 2013
I don't think I have ever read a book as strong as Defending Jacob. The love of parents of their child is an unspeakable and unbreakable bond but to see it portrayed by Mr. Landay is a fete in itself. Expertly written with very strong emotions from all of the characters in the book is sure to stay with you long after you have read the book. I finished reading Defending Jacob two days ago and I keep thinking about it!

What do you do when you are faced with a problem with your child or is there a problem at all? These are only questions that a parent can answer but can they see only what they want to see? Or do they think the worst? Powerful writing by Mr. Landay to portray a family in turmoil.

If there is a book that needs to be read, it is Defending Jacob. Put it on top of your reading list and hang on for a superb novel!!
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on July 27, 2012
This book had so much potential, but fell flat. I loved the premise of the story but only continued reading the story because I wanted to know if Jacob did this awful act or not. The characters were not fully developed; I didn't get to know Jacob. The trial ended as I suspected it would, but the events which happened afterwards were a HUGE disappointment. I do not know now so many people rated this book with such high praise. I was a little angry that I had wasted my time reading this book.
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VINE VOICEon July 24, 2013
A friend recommended Defending Joshua telling me that one night she had to literally hold her eyelids open in order to finish it. "Do not assume you know anything while you read it," she warned. I had purchased the book already and it was on my shelf so that night I pulled it off the shelf and began to read. Hot Damnn! It was so good! A mystery, a thriller, perfectly paced...my favorite kind of book. I ripped right through it.

"Defending Jacob" reminded me a bit of Jodi Piccoult's "Plain Truth" in its exciting courtroom drama depiction. I would say better than Turow's "Presumed Innocent" in its deliberateness. The subject is a delicate one...a son, Jacob, 15, is accused of killing a fellow student in cold blood. His parent's, pillars of the community, are traumatized, shocked, sick - you can actually feel their pain though Landay's words. They marvel and wonder, as any parent would - Could our son have done this? That fact that Jacob's Dad is the cop assigned to the case gives the reader a unique perspective. The havoc wreaked on the marriage and all the secrets spouse chose not to share is fascinating. Do not miss this one!
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