Book Review: Defending Jacob by William Landay

DEFENDING JACOB
By William Landay

We think we know our family members inside and out, don’t we? But can we ever really know what’s going on in every aspect of our spouse’s and children’s lives and thoughts even though we’ve lived together for years? How do parents stay a part of their child’s life without being overbearing and snoopy like KGB agents? Kind of makes you wonder when you put some thought into the matter. There is the old argument about nature versus nurture, too. All of us have been blessed with agency, the ability to choose what we will do in any situation. So how much of our choices are attributable to heredity and how much to how one is raised? The debate goes on as it does in this suspenseful novel.

The story revolves around the Barber family. It is a tight knit family consisting of the father, Adam Barber, his loving wife, Laurie, and their only child, 14 year old Jacob. Adam is the county Asst. District Attorney and has been for 22 years. He is the lead prosecutor, and he handles all murder cases. He also comes from a long line of violent criminals, from his father on back. Adam is so ashamed of this he has even kept this secret from his wife. He has been determined that he will never be like his father nor will his son.

One morning he is called to an apparent homicide of a 14 year old peer of Jacob’s. The body is found face down on an embankment in a park that many of the students, inclduing Jacob, walk through to get to school. It is a terrible tragedy. Why would anyone do this? Ben is just your regular middle school student. Newton, Massachusetts is a small town for the upper middle class and the wealthy. Stuff like this doesn’t happen here.

As Adam pursues the truth he finds that people are saying that Jacob is guilty and that he is unstable. Jake’s clear fingerprint is found on the dead boy’s clothing. Ben was stabbed 3 times in the chest with some type of knife that has a serrated edge. A classmate informs the police that Jacob had brought a serrated-edged hunting knife to school. Jacob’s knife is missing and no weapon is found at the murder scene. There are no witnesses, just some circumstantial evidence. Jacob is arrested for the murder of his peer.

Adam is removed from the case and another attorney who is looking to make a name for himself is assigned. Adam will do whatever it takes to clear his son. As the novel spins it’s intricate tale, the reader is given a lot of information, but it doesn’t give any sure answers. The Barbers lose their friends. They become pariahs. They receive death threats. As the case goes forward Adam watches his family disintegrate.

The story is told by Adam as he becomes a participant in various scenarios. I couldn’t put this novel down. It was a definite page turner. Is Jacob guilty or not? Does Adam go too far to protect his son or does he not do enough? Is there such a thing as a “murder gene” that can run in a family? If there is such a thing how much of an effect does it have on the person’s propensity to be aggressive? Can the effects of the gene be ameliorated?

All of these questions and more come into play. The reader has a bit of thinking to do to make sense of the evidence. I guarantee that the surprise ending will leave you speechless. Definitely earns 5 of 5 stars in my “book!”