Review: Defending Jacob by William Landay

I finished this book a few weeks ago and I’m still thinking about it. 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. It’s a story of 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.

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive. At the heart of Landay’s exceptional novel is a parent’s worst nightmare. 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? 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?

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? It’s the old debate of nature versus nurture. Landay doesn’t provide the answers, but he compels you to delve deeper into the issue. Defending Jacob also raises the question, how far will you go to protect your family?

We read this book for our book club and it generated much discussion! Considering the majority of us in the book club are working or have worked in the mental health field in some capacity, it was possible to see the potential for a murder gene. But then, we have to ask, is it because of how the child was raised, the abuse they went through, the lack of parental support, abandonment, etc? Jacob, for all appearances, had a decent childhood. He had two parents who loved him and wanted the best for him. His father worked hard to hide his tumultuous history of violence in his family so it wouldn’t influence Jacob. Yet, were there signs that Jacob had the makings of a sociopath? Is it possible that regardless of his upbringing, for Jacob to still be a murderer? Would bullying drive a young boy to murder his tormentor? And then the ultimate question, did Jacob even commit the murder?

As Jacob’s parents, how do you accept the possibility that your son is a murderer? At what lengths will you go to defend him, protect him, prove his innocence (or guilt)? What do you do when the father believes in Jacob’s innocence and the mother isn’t so sure? What would you do in order to protect your family and to protect others? What would you do if you believe your child is capable of murder and may have actually committed it?

Landay skillfully keeps the reader guessing about Jacob’s culpability and true nature up to the shocking final chapters. 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.

If you want to learn more about William Landay and his book, visit his website.

Defending Jacob by William Landay is available at Amazon.

This is an affiliate link.

Published by Delacorte Press, 2012

ISBN-13: 9780385344227

Source: Bought Copy (see my Review Policy)

Rating: A-

Copyright © kld/klc for Kat’s Book Reviews. All rights reserved. (see Review Policy)

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