Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: Defending Jacob by William Landay

What a powerful book!!!

I have read many books involving courtroom drama. Legal thrillers, legal mysteries, women's fiction with a courtroom climax, and even non-fictions written by legal professors and can't think of one that has left such an impact on me. I'm sorry to John Grisham, Scott Turow, and Michael Connelly butDefending Jacob explored and touch way more bases than either author has done in the past.

Newton is rocked to it's core when the discovery of a 14-year old boy, Ben Rivkin, is found brutally murdered in the park. This suburb does not have these type of problems. Andy Barber is a resident of this town, and also works as a prosecutor in the District Attorney's office. He's ready to take on this case and find the killer when those hopes are derailed during the investigation. Evidence has suggested his son, Jacob Barber, is in fact the killer. How's that for irony?

I say this novel explored a lot because of the many dilemmas it presents to the various characters. Andy Barber, also the narrator, is in disbelief and can't fathom his child could kill anything let alone a fellow classmate. This blindness he has for some of the truths that are being revealed can easily become annoying to the reader, but that's the point isn't it? How/when do you stop supporting and believing your loved one, especially your kid, when all the evidence suggests that you should? When do those rose-colored glasses come off and you accept that no matter what you did or didn't do as a parent, this monster is all yours?

I don't want to imply that Jacob is a monster because he may have been guilty, therefore spoiling the the book for any future readers. No! I'm saying this kid is an absolute monster just cause. He's very emotionless and pretty much one of the worse teen characters I've had the pleasure of reading in a long while. He doesn't seem to take the situation seriously and is a quite embellished narcissitic character bordering on caricature. I'm sure now after reading the ending (which is definitely going to blow some minds) that it's good he was written this way... although it made for seriously annoying moments.

Defending Jacob also explores the relationship between nature and nurture. There are a few chapters devoted to seeing if Jacob has the "Murder" gene given Andy Barbers lineage. This is something fresh and new in the legal thriller realm and handled well by Landay. Because it's not something that is as commonly used in true courtrooms, Landay sneaks it in through the back door during a grand jury deposition. 

Speaking of grand jury depositions. The narration varies between Andy Barber almost telling a story... as if writing a memoir of sorts, then pieces of transcript are given to support that point in the story. I found that to be pretty fun and broke up the monotony of Andy's narration. He was almost becoming just as unlikeable as his son Jacob. 

This is a novel about family, guilt, innocence, nature, nurture, and everything in between. The courtroom scene is just the icing on the cake for Defending Jacob because the author really lands his knockout punch in the last 20 pages or so. Every time I thought I had this figured out, another layer was added that made the mystery of whodunit still a... well a mystery. Thanks for that William Landay. I will be adding more of his novels to my shelf!  *****

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