Book Review: DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay

I originally reviewed this for Shelf Awareness. It’s reprinted here with permission.

When Assistant D.A. Andy Barber gets a case involving a murdered boy who’s a classmate of his son’s, there are gripes about conflict of interest. Then evidence points to Andy’s son, Jacob, being the murderer, and the D.A. takes Andy off the case. He finds himself on the defensive side of the law trying to prove Jacob’s innocence. But the more he investigates, the more he realizes there’s a lot about his son he doesn’t know, including whether or not Jacob is capable of murder.

This novel is a combination legal and psychological thriller, and keeps readers guessing about what happened to the murdered boy and the true nature of Jacob’s psyche. But the central characters are hard to root for. Jacob remains an enigma, seen differently through Andy’s eyes and those of his mother, Laurie. Andy believes his son cannot commit murder, going so far as to destroy potential evidence. Laurie, however, immediately questions whether she and Andy had been good parents, if Jacob had needed help that they never provided. These may be realistic reactions, but they make Laurie somewhat hard to like, as if she’s being disloyal to her son by assuming the worst so quickly.

Landay’s overall style could use some editing—he repeatedly mentions Laurie’s weight loss during the ordeal, and takes half a page to describe idyllic beach scenes on a resort’s website. And the so-called shock ending was somewhat spoiled by promotional materials comparing this to a very well-known legal thriller (if you’ve read it, you can guess the twist here). But the story does have its merits, raising questions about how well we know those we love, and how far we would go to protect them, even from themselves.

Nerd verdict: Overly written, but has its merits

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  • Reply
    February 8, 2012 at 7:32 am

    I read this…it left me wanting to know more, especially about the second situation. I don’t know to which which legal thriller it was compared???? Tell me later! I did enjoy it, but I wanted/needed some answers.

  • Reply
    Eric Edwards
    February 8, 2012 at 9:33 am

    I started reading it recently, but I keep getting bogged down my the character of Andy and his meandering superfluous narrative. It’s as though the guy has ADD or something. Love the trial scenes, but this book needed another pass by the editor.

    I can’t get over how some reviews and PR blurbs have so callously given away the ending with their comparison to that other book. It makes me not want to finish now that I know the ending. Thanks for having the kindness of not revealing it here.

  • Reply
    February 8, 2012 at 10:04 am

    Heard about this and what I have been hearing is people are polarized in their opinions. I like controversy as much as anyone. Maybe I’ll check it out before Lifetime makes a movie out of it.

  • Reply
    Shell Sherree
    February 10, 2012 at 9:14 pm

    I can’t imagine what it would be like as a parent to have to deal with something like that ~ wanting to have absolute faith in your child but being faced with contrary logic and evidence. Thankfully, my kitty cat will never put me to the test. Another perspicacious review, PCN ~ thanks, as always!

  • Reply
    April 3, 2012 at 9:00 am

    As soon as my mother and her book club are done with this, she’ll be giving it to me. My mother says it’s excellent.

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