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Showing 1-10 of 6,653 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 8,389 reviews
on May 24, 2013
William Landay has written an excellent but dark literary crime novel about the stabbing death of a 14-year-old boy in an affluent suburb of Boston. Ben Rifkin was found stabbed to death in a park where people jogged and students walked to school through the leafy grounds. Ben was known as a bully at school and one of his victims was the son of the assistant district attorney, Andy Barber. Andy and his wife Laurie and their teenage son, Jacob, had always lived happy lives together as a family unit, with Laurie overseeing the care of her family with much love and diligence. Andy was a bit more relaxed about it all, but he loved Jacob and had dreams for his only child.

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.
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on February 22, 2017
I found the story compelling. I didn't think it was "simple" at all, but rather a complex portrait of one man's psyche. Although the murder and the family's plight were at the center of the story, for me, the main point of the book was the slow, exquisite revelation of who Andy really was. This is a portrait of a desperate man in an impossible situation. Andy never wavers but bit by bit our trust in him is eroded. This book reminds me of "The Dinner" by Herman Koch only with a faster pace, and easier to read. I don't understand some of the comments that the characters were not developed when the entire book is a character study. Great read.
I did think that some of the trial testimony dragged, since the reader already knew the content of what most of the witnesses were testifying about and I wish there had been more of a wrap up of what happened to the poor cat outside the window one night. Also, we never got to see Laurie's reaction to learning about certain pieces of evidence. But these are completely minor points that do not take away from a great story.
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on February 8, 2013
There are already nearly 1,500 reviews for this book, but I'll post mine as well because I found this book to be many things, both good and not so good. In the first place, the premise is truly shocking and fascinating. A 14-year-old is accused of murder in the same jurisdiction as his district attorney father. Okay, let the fireworks fly! And they do. In no time, the father is put on leave and he promptly begins to defend his son at all cost, from hiring a great defense attorney to tracking down a suspect on his own. In the mean time, the boy's mother is more suspicious. More fireworks, this time the family drama kind as mother and father battle over what to believe vis a vis their son. Is he a good kid who makes some bad choices? Or, is he a bad kid who inherited a ruptured set of DNA from the father's family that is peppered with murderers? Enter cops, a psychiatrist, and even the grandfather still in prison for murder. These elements the author weaves together quite well as we venture down the path witnessing good and evil through the eyes of a man who proves to be an unreliable narrator. In fact, the book is told in the first person with plenty of courtroom transcripts. Because the reader is forced to bounce back and forth in the timeline without specific knowledge of when some testimony is given in different venues, the shocking ending is cleverly revealed. The trouble is, the reader spends a little too much time with the narrator, getting repetitive, dragging through a courtroom with retelling of various well-known parts of the story. The book could easily be 50 pages shorter without losing any impact. Still, I stuck with it with some satisfaction. In particular, the questions asked are the kind that don't always have answers. And if there are answers they are not the ones we like to face. There is good and evil in this world, and some of it may (or may not) be in the family.
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on December 11, 2016
One never really forgets the books one reads. Bits and pieces, perhaps, second hand players, maybe. Their names, the part they played within the broad context of the story.
I read this book during the first year it was published. When I read its leading role in the beat law novels ever written according to an important attorney, before John Grisham, I thought, "Yes!" It is also one of the books which kept me glued to the story for the hours that it took to complete that first time. Could it do that again?
Well, it did. The story is impeccably written, the characters are so well developed that they become like ones own family for a time; one cares about them, roots for them or despises them as the author directs. It is rare that a book can take one over ones life in the way this book did for me. Even in the second reading.
Does it help the writer that I am a parent with all of the innate protective instincts that parents can display at a moment's notice should their child be in trouble? Yes, it helps! Does it help that one understands that one is on the wrong side because early on one surmises the true guilt and innocence in this story? I found that trying to direct myself back to the side of the law, to the side of justice was impossible for me, so it helps.
Even if Jacob was guilty, I wanted him to be proven not guilty for the sake of his suffering parents whom I grew to know so well. Whom I wanted to root for and protect the way that they protected Jacob, their boy, whom they so desperately wanted to be innocent.
And in the end, the only thing that can happen does happen. The only way everyone can finally be protected is chosen by one of the protagonists. Perhaps the biggest hero in the story after all. The person who steps out courageously and does what has to be done.
I do not intend to read this book a third time, just yet. I do intend to read the other works of this author. His writing and his incredible gift for story is what grabs at one. I certainly hope to find that same artful writing in his other two books! Good luck! And look forward to several long reads. It is so worth it.
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on August 24, 2015
This is going to be a hard book to review without giving away the plot but I’m going to try. Fair warning! I’ll focus on the father’s character in an attempt to avoid spoiling the story.

In a lot of ways Defending Jacob is the perfect companion to book to We Need to Talk About Kevin. In the Kevin book, we have a cold and selfish mother who takes an inexplicable dislike and paranoia about her child from the day of conception. She’s an unreliable narrator, as is the father in Defending Jacob. It’s clear that there is something very wrong with Kevin, and it also appears that she is actively pushing him towards his dark destiny.

In Defending Jacob we have a father who is blind in every imaginable way to the darkness in his son. To a certain extent, that’s commendable. Who wouldn’t want a parent who only sees the good in our actions? But there’s something very wrong with his son, so like the mother in the Kevin book, we see the father (with his very best intentions) pushing his son to the same destiny for very different reasons.

The two books are not similar in any other way, different genre, different style, very different outcome. I have no idea if Mr. Landry read the Kevin book, and it wouldn’t matter if he did, his story is very different other than in the parenting a bad seed theme. (I hope all of you have seen The Bad Seed. It’s really good. Find it, watch it.)

The father, Andy, is a very cold man prone to making harsh judgments of those around him, even the kids he speaks to in order to get to the bottom of what happened the day in the park. He’s not likable, but his character is very engaging. It’s interesting to watch him trying to spin in his mind any information that counters his vision of his son. The book is technically a legal thriller, but it read to me more as a character study.

For a good portion of the book I thought perhaps Andy was the killer (I don’t think the author intended me to think that), because of his overzealous devotion to his son. Andy had a dark secret of his own, and his reaction to it was not healthy for him or those around him. So many secrets. I think it’s pretty clear in the book that if he had been open about his past, the murderous events would not have taken place.

I’m heading into spoiler territory, so I’ll end my review here. I loved the book. I could not put it down, and will read forevermore everything Mr. Landry writes.

On a personal note, I spent a good part of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 reading everything I could about attachment disorders and sociopathy. I’m probably what you would an internet expert on the subject (is there a scarier type of expert?). As I was reading it, I was aware that Mr. Landry had at some point immersed himself in the subjects as I had. This made me happy.
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on March 9, 2015
I came to this book looking for a casual, escapist read. Like a couple of other books I've read lately, I discovered after I began that the book was a best seller back in 2012 and is in the process of being made as a movie. That is a turnoff for me, but I pressed on. I'm very glad I did. In the course of the story the circumstances of seven murders are related. Yet to me this is not a murder mystery. Three of those murders are historical and the who, what, when, and where are casually disclosed. Another murder is related as a frame-up for a fourth murder but is otherwise unremarked in the story. A fifth murder is related with little detail; who is killed, and a hypothesis of how and when. The murderer is unknown but the reader is strongly invited to speculate. The sixth murder is the main focus of the story. A 14 year old boy is stabbed in a park on the way to school. The criminal investigation grinds on, a suspect is identified, and the American justice system moves inexorably to trial and with verdict of guilt or innocence as the end goal. Yet this is not a criminal or legal procedure story either (although the author as an Assistant District Attorney). Again, readers are invited to sit in the jury box and decide the case. I did just that. Got all the way to the end of the book before I realized that was not the main focus of the story.

On reflection, the story is about the bond between parent and child. The child in this case is the defendant in the park murder, Jacob Barber. He also is 14, but in Massachusetts tried as an adult. His father, Andy Barber, is the principal Assistant District Attorney for the County. His mother, Andrea Barber. Jacob insists on his innocence, the evidence is, for the most part, circumstantial, the police, state troopers, school friends and even prosecuting DA, are all friends and/or colleagues who, for the most part, wish the Barbers well. Yet doubts and suspicions pile up. The real trial is for the parents. Can their unshakeable faith in their son's innocence withstand the pressure cooker of the investigation and trial. Can they maintain in the face of lurid and sensational press coverage and ostracism by neighbors and associates (who may wish them well, but do not wish to be guilty by association). But most wrenchingly, can they preserve their faith in their son in the forge of self imposed isolation of the three of them in their home. Where for months Jacob's every word, spoken or unspoken, every gesture, every activity drips on their stoney resolve, working to dissolve their faith.

The structure of the story is well suited to presenting the story and disclosing the denoument. The "present" in the story is one day in April 2008. The "park murder" that takes up most of the book has occurred one year ago. The circumstance of the present is a Grand Jury investigation of an undisclosed event to determine whether an undisclosed person is going to be indicted for an undisclosed crime. Although some aspects of how Grand Jury procedures work is disclosed, the reader needs to be aware there is no judge, no defense attorney, no spectators. There is only a prosecutor, the Jury,the witness, and a recorder in the courtroom. Witnesses are called into the courtroom one at a time. On the day the story takes place, Andy Barber is on the witness stand all day answering questions about his knowledge of events over the previous year. This testimony is frequently interspersed with first person internal narrative of his memories of the same events.

Oh, and the seventh murder.....well, you will have to read the book. Highly recommended.
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on May 30, 2015
I was excited when I purchased this book because of all the glowing reviews. It started out great, the premise for a page turner was all there. And then.... you guessed it, long, drawn out, boring and predictable pages filled the rest of the book. By the second half of it, I was reading just a couple of lines each page. At the end of it, I was dumbfounded by the lack of resolution to the story, leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions. If you want a book where you fill in the blanks to your own ending, have at it. As for me, I prefer the author to write the book.
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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 July 31, 2014
Expected to like this book ..... can't say I did. From the reviews and subject matter I thought it would be much more of a developed story. Ended up feeling like I missed so many points. it all seemed so simple in the end..... even with the "twist" at the end ... and the real "end".
What with the father's background and profession ... you would have thought he would be more aware of possible problems with Jacob and worked hard to protect him as well as others. Then when all goes terribly wrong he then becomes relentless in his quest to protect him ????? This book just didn't go together well for me. In the end .... Jacob & his wife pay the price and I guess he is left to deal with his shortfall.
Really wouldn't advise this to be in anyone's top 50 list of must reads. Sorry.
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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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