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Defending Jacob

William Landay

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Jun 06, 2012
Category: Fiction

A father. A mother. A son, their only child.

The father is an assistant district attorney, acute professionally, but personally damaged and limited.

The mother is a cipher, poorly characterized.

The boy, 14, is a nasty, remote piece of shit who wouldn’t answer a direct question if you bitch-slapped him.
 
I cared about none of them — and yet I kept reading, turning pages fast, skimming, fighting the urge to skip to the last page to see how it all worked out.
 
Hated it. Hated them. Hated myself for being sucked in to a book that critics have compared to Scott Turow’s genre-defining “Presumed Innocent,” which it is so not.
 
But if you want to lose yourself in a legal thriller, yeah, you’d do well to read “Defending Jacob” before the movie’s made. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.] 

The setup is more than clever. In Newton, Massachusetts, Ben Rifkin is killed on his way to school. It’s a high-profile case, so Andy Barber, an assistant district attorney, keeps it for himself. He does this because he’s the highest-ranking ADA, not because his son Jacob was in Ben’s class and might, for all he knows, be a suspect.
 
But Jacob does become a suspect. Andy is taken off the case. And then, when Jacob is arrested for the murder, Andy’s placed on leave. Soon enough, Andy’s working for Jacob’s son’s defense lawyer, desperate to prove his son’s innocence — just what any father who’s a lawyer would do.
 
Twists? Here they come. Andy has a big secret, never shared with his wife, which might be a factor in the killing – or not. His wife has a boatload of anecdotes about Jacob’s childhood, which, taken together, could indicate he’s a bit more than just another sullen teen — or not. And then another shadowy character enters the plot. And then, at the end, there’s a revelation I should have seen coming — and didn’t. And then, at the very end, another — believe me, you will not guess it.
 
Maybe Andy Barber needs to be so dense for the plot to work. Maybe his wife has to be more than the warm, nurturing cliché at the center of her circle of friends for the story to make its shocking turns. Maybe William Landay doesn’t write with his feet. Here’s Chapter 1. Decide for yourself.
 
After you’re devoured “Defending Jacob,” you have one more thrill. If you’ve haven’t read “Presumed Innocent,” get to it. Because it is, after all, the greatest thriller about a lawyer, a murder and his family that anyone has ever written — or will.
[To buy the paperback of “Presumed Innocent” from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]