Book Book Book Book
Commentary Commentary RSS Reviews Podcasts_Audio Podcasts RSS Blog Links Archives Indexes
William Landay
Defending Jacob
Delacorte Press / Random House
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-385-34422-7
Publication Date: 01-31-2012
425 Pages; $26
Date Reviewed: 03-04-2012
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2012

Index: Mystery  General Fiction

Our children are a source of joy and love in our lives. But with the certainty of love comes the potential for much darker emotions; fear, violence, anger, everything we need to protect them from those who would do them harm. The tension between these two poles of being can drive the most lawful of men to actions that are well outside the law. William Landay works this territory for all it is worth in 'Defending Jacob,' a book that lives up to the description of "thriller." With a few simple brush strokes, he pulls readers relentlessly into a vortex of transcendental parental terror.

Landay writes with an easy assurance and command of plot and character. We meet Andy Barber, an assistant District Attorney, as he is testifying in a case that clearly involves his own family. A fourteen year-old boy has been murdered in a park. Barber was the first man on the scene with the cops. As the senior man in his department, he took the case himself. This has clearly proved to be an unwise decision, since he's being cross-examined by his one-time subordinate. It's not the only bad decision you'll read about in this book.

Readers are best advised to go into 'Defending Jacob' as cold as possible. Don't read the dust jacket, and avoid reviews. You're not going to find out much more about the plot from this one. Landay has crafted a consummate character-driven page-turner that is thought-provoking, intense, and packed with surprises that even veteran genre readers will find surprising.

The manner in which the story is told is one of the greatest pleasures of 'Defending Jacob.' Landay weaves courtroom transcripts, courtroom dialogues and more pastoral passages set in the suburbs to create a sense of high-tension that is powerfully underwritten by close observations and characterization. As each page presents a new perspective on events, readers will enjoy the surprises but never feel cheated. And the surprises are engagingly revelatory.

Landay's cast of characters is a nicely drawn selection from everyman's suburb, with a legal leaning. Wives gather in cliques to discuss tragedy, they circle to shield their own and pull back from the excluded, the tainted. Lawyers and judges, friends and neighbors say the right thing to the exquisitely written Barber family. Andy, his wife and their son cope with the murder in an achingly realistic manner. His comrades at work, particularly the oily Logiudice (pronounced lowJOOdiss) are the sort of professionals you might find anywhere; flawed but certainly respectable. The kids in this book seem as daunting and inscrutable and lovable as any you might happen to have in your own life.

Landay's prose is a stand-out aspect of novel that remains wisely beneath the radar. His transcripts and dialogue are crisp without being sketchy, and his suburban interludes are lush but not mushy. There's science and tech in the novel, both in the kids Internet usage and in the courtroom itself, that is engagingly integrated into the plot. Landay knows how to write about the particulars of incoming technology and science in a manner that is interesting to read about even as it advances plot points. He manages to tell us what we want to know without getting on a lectern.

The real trick of 'Defending Jacob' is that readers can enjoy the surprises without feeling as if they've been tricked. Landay is a crafty, smart writer who gets us in his character's perspective and makes staying there tense and enjoyable, even as the revelations unfold. There's no doubt that some will see what's coming, but that won't detract from how much you enjoy 'Defending Jacob.' Landay's characters and their world will become yours while you read this book. You'll see the world through eyes that are not your own, and when you open your eyes on your own world, it will be changed. Joy and love, or fear, anger and violence? Our children are capable of inspiring all of these emotions. But they are not responsible for those emotions, or what they inspire us to do.

Review Archive
All Reviews alphabetized by author.

General Fiction
Non-Genre, general fiction and literature.

Supernatural fiction, supernatural horror and non-supernatural horror.

Science Fiction
Science fiction, science fantasy, speculative fiction, alternate history.

Fantasy, surrealism and magic realism.

Crime, thrillers, mystery, suspense.

Non-Fiction, True Crime, Forteana, Reference.


Archives Indexes How to use the Agony Column Contact Us About Us