Expectations of trust, loyalty, and unconditional love between parent and child are put to the ultimate test in William Landay's "Defending Jacob." The comfortable, suburban lives enjoyed by Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber, his wife Laurie, and 14 year old son Jacob are shattered when the lifeless body of Jacob's middle school classmate Ben Rifkin is discovered in a Newton, Massachusetts park. Evidence implicating Jacob Barber as the suspected killer continues to mount, and it isn't long before his father is removed from his role as prosecutor for the case. The arrest of their son devastates the parents, and Andy and Laurie struggle desperately to believe in Jacob's innocence while the strength of their once solid marriage begins to erode. The inevitable murder charge isolates the family within their own neighborhood and community. The phone and the doorbell stop ringing, friends withdraw, and strangers whisper. The couple find themselves feeling as though they are being judged as accomplices to the actions for which their son has been accused. As the story of defending Jacob unfolds and the teenager heads to trial, Andy becomes obsessed with a plan to reveal a known child molester as the true suspect, Laurie becomes a shell of the vibrant woman she used to be, and Jacob withdraws further into himself.
For readers who enjoy a crime novel with riveting courtroom drama, William Landay's rendition will not disappoint. The once upon a time prosecutor, Andy Barber, finds himself in the witness chair facing Neal Loguidice: the over enthusiastic Assistant District Attorney who "stole" Andy's job. The taut writing, excellent dialogue, and dramatic plot development lead to a stunning ending, and the book is literally difficult to put down. There are plenty of discussion points promising good reasons for book clubs to gather or friends to linger over dinner. Some of the provocative questions raised ask how far a parent should go to protect a child; suggest the existence of a "murder gene" that could be a brilliant defense or assure an automatic life sentence; and explore how well a parent can actually know a child who is brought up on today's social media that exists far beyond the shadow of a parent's watchful eye.
Not much can be found negative about Landay's writing. Since he was the gatekeeper of his parents' hopes and dreams, maybe more insight into the secret life of Jacob, along with his feelings, would have been a bonus. In addition, the emotional distance between husband and wife takes away an opportunity for the two to have more discussion about the fate of their son. However, "Defending Jacob" is definitely a satisfying read, and in spite of its length of 400 plus pages, will leave the reader wishing for more.
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