Defending Jacob, by William Landay

Nine stars

Having received a strong recommendation to read this book, I was curious to see what William Landay might have in store for the reader. Not for the weak of heart, the story offers the reader much to consider as they manoeuvre through this stellar work. The small community of Newton, Massachusetts is put on edge with the murder of Ben Rifkin. A teenager at the local middle school, Rifkin was known to be somewhat of a bully, happy to toss aside those who might be different. Andrew ‘Andy’ Barber takes up the initial murder investigation as one of the ADAs, turning his attention on a local paedophile with lives in the area. However, Jacob Barber becomes a person of interest and is eventually arrested and charged with the murder, which pushes Andy out of a job and onto the sidelines as he scrambles to prove his son’s innocence. Forced to wrap his head around what might have happened, Andy turns to examining Jacob’s life under a microscope. What he discovers is the extensive cruelty that youths inflict on one another, be it verbally or hidden behind the veil of social media. There is also the possibility that a genetic predisposition (read: The Warrior Gene) could be at play, forcing Andy to explore his past and bring some less than pleasant aspects to the surface, all which trying to keep his family together as his wife doubts their son’s innocence. Whatever happens, when the case goes to trial, Andy can do nothing but hone his focus… on defending Jacob. Question is, will it be enough? A thought-provoking story that Landay tells in a masterful fashion. Perfect for the reader who wishes to be enveloped in a small-town legal struggle that digs deeper and pushes the limits at every turn.

William Landay’s work is new to me, but rest assured I will be back for more. The story, be it steeped in fact or completely fictitious, is full of intrigue and paced in such a way that the reader cannot help but want to know more. The list of characters work well and are depicted as close to realistically as possible, from teenage choppy-linguistic portrayals, to the profanity-laden diatribes of prisoners, and even the smooth legalese that lawyers offer in the middle of trial. Landay explores this case from all angles and takes the reader into the middle, though offers a clear flaw, by using Andy Barber as the narrator. This entire process is digested and then regurgitated through the eyes of a disbelieving father, which flavours the story in a wonderful way, jading things from the start. Andy has his own demons about which he is not proud, though he refuses to turn his only child into yet another notch on his family tree trunk. The law, the social struggles, and the angst that a family feels all emerge throughout the story, keeping the reader hooked and Landay in complete control of the story through to the final page twist. If this is Landay’s typical story format, I can see myself offering more praise of his work in the months to come.

Kudos, Mr. Landay for such a raw and insightful piece. You have such a way with words and presentation that I am sure scores of other readers will soon discover the superior quality of your work.