Inverarity (inverarity) wrote,

Book Review: Defending Jacob, by William Landay

A legal thriller about "bad blood" and badly behaving teens.

Defending Jacob

Delacorte Press, 2012, 421 pages

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than 20 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 14-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, and 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.

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis - a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.

In this legal thriller, a DA's son is charged with the murder of a classmate. The first part of the book unfolds as a standard mystery/courtroom drama. The parents, of course, are absolutely certain of their son's innocence, and there's an obvious suspect for the real killing. Then bits and pieces about their son's story don't add up.

It turns into not just a criminal mystery, but a suspense novel about "bad blood," the hidden genetic predisposition that might be passed on from father to son. Andy Barber, a fine upstanding Assistant DA, pillar of his community, has been harboring a dark secret his entire life, even from his own wife and son — that his father, whom he has not seen in over 40 years, is serving a life sentence for murder. His father was, and is, a thug with a history of violence, and over the course of the story, we see that anger and potential for violence hinted at more than once in Andy. This of course raises the difficult question of whether his son, Jacob, might also have inherited that predisposition, especially when the behavioral geneticist they hire for their son's criminal defense starts throwing scary words around like "attachment disorder" and "disassociative." Everyone in school knew that Jacob was "off," yet somehow his parents never noticed.

The story takes several obligatory turns to keep the reader guessing, but the twist at the end is probably the most wrenching. This is a powerful novel about thinking the unthinkable, and questioning whether a parent is even capable of facing the worst when it comes to their child.

I thought the riddles about behavior and heredity, and the reactions of Jacob's parents, were more interesting than the murder mystery. The courtroom scenes were as good as in any legal thriller, without going into too much detail about legal arcana. Defending Jacob doesn't quite make it into my highly recommended category, but it's probably one of my favorite recent crime thrillers.

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Tags: books, mystery, reviews

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