Parents will do whatever it takes to protect their children from physical harm or to defend them from anyone, or anything, that otherwise threatens their wellbeing. That is a given; it is just what we do – even for our adult children. But what if a parent suspects that a son or daughter might have committed a violent crime against someone else’s child? And what if that parent is the District Attorney charged with prosecuting the very crime his son has been accused of committing?
First District Attorney Andy Barber, facing precisely that “what if” question, never hesitates. Jacob is the most important thing in Andy’s life, and if Andy has to place his own future in jeopardy in order to save his son’s life, well, that is what he will do.
One of Jacob Barber’s classmates, a 14-year-old boy, has been found stabbed to death along one of the walkways of the park that numerous students cross on their way to the middle school every morning. Andy Barber, once he gets over the shock of such a thing happening so close to home, is determined to find and prosecute the murderer as quickly as possible. He recognizes the fear and unease of his friends and neighbors and believes that moving quickly will help restore the community’s sense of security and normalcy.
However, Andy and Laurie Barber receive an even bigger shock when their son is arrested for the murder and Andy is forced to take a leave of absence from the District Attorney’s office. As the investigation evolves, the Barbers and the parents of the dead boy will learn things about their sons they never could have imagined. They will also learn things about themselves and their neighbors that are almost as disturbing as what is revealed about the boys.
Defending Jacob is a classic courtroom thriller that will remind the reader of earlier novels like Presumed Innocent and A Time to Kill, two other books that caught the imaginations of readers and sold in huge numbers. And like the best of his predecessors, William Landay focus on nicely developed characters, plot twists, and a major surprise or two near the end to create a memorable story. But, even though there are recognizable similarities between Jacob Barber’s case and some recent real-world teen-murderers, Defending Jacob is as much a study of family dynamics as it is a legal thriller.
The three members of the Barber family, ostracized and hated by their neighbors - every one of whom believe Jacob is the killer – have only each other for support and comfort. But, as the pressure of the trial mounts, with more and more evidence pointing to Jacob’s guilt, Andy and Laurie begin to sense that their son’s emotional response to his arrest is odd. The family’s survival is in doubt in more ways than one.
Surprisingly, the most memorable character in Defending Jacob is Jacob’s grandfather, a man who moves into and out of the picture as the plot develops. The man’s pure evilness certainly makes a lasting impression; for me, one even more striking than that made by Andy Barber’s choice to place his son’s life above the very justice system he has spent a lifetime serving.
Defending Jacob is probably a little bit over-hyped but it has its moments and will certainly be enjoyed by courtroom drama fans. Warner Brothers has already optioned the book, so read it before the movie spoils it for you.