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Exceptional literary crime novel
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.