William Landay’s Defending Jacob is an excellent novel of literary fiction, a compulsively readable legal thriller which also examines the pressure and pain of a family in crisis.
Well-regarded assistant district attorney Andy Barber, his wife Laurie, and their 14-year-old son Jacob, are living a relatively normal life in Newton, MA. When Jacob’s classmate, Ben Rifkin, is found stabbed to death in the woods, Andy gets the case and is determined to bring the killer to justice. The tables are turned however, when evidence points to Jacob as the killer and he is arrested and charged with murder.
Barber takes a forced leave of absence from his job and helps their experienced defense attorney defend their son, who neither Andy nor Laurie can believe is guilty of murder. They are prepared to go to the wall to defend and protect their only son but, in the meantime, their lives begin to unravel as they deal with it. They become pariahs in the community and prisoners in their own home. Andy and Laurie begin to question themselves and their responsibilities as parents, and questions arise relative to the criminal nature of Andy’s father and grandfather. Is there a genetic thread here that has fallen upon their son?
Landay, a former district attorney, keeps readers guessing about Jacob’s culpability and the ultimate outcome as Laurie buckles from the public accusations, her own doubts about both her son and her husband, and the pressure of the trial. All of the ingredients of a legal thriller are here, but the focus here is the unraveling of a family that has found itself embroiled in a nightmare.
Defending Jacob is available from Delacorte Press.