Wednesday, February 6, 2013

DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay

Having your 14-year-old son indicted for murdering a classmate would cause any family to unravel.  The narrator is Andy Barber, an assistant DA, whose son Jacob has means (a knife), motive (bullying), and opportunity.  Jacob also has a mean streak, a history of shoplifting, and a nasty temper.  Oh, and his fingerprint is on the victim's sweatshirt.  Why his parents have chosen to ignore obvious signs that their son is a sociopath is anybody's guess, especially since Andy's forbears had a propensity toward violence—a fact that he has failed to share with his wife, Laurie.  Now Andy and Laurie are paying a huge price for turning a blind eye to their son's abominable behavior.  The book shifts back and forth between the year of the murder and the following year, in which Andy is testifying before a grand jury.  The reason for this latter testimony is as much of a puzzle to the reader as the uncertainty of Jacob's involvement in the murder.  Before Andy's replacement as prosecutor on the case, he had wanted to pursue a known pedophile as the most likely culprit.  As the damning evidence continues to mount against Jacob, however, even Andy and Laurie begin to doubt their son's innocence, especially after a particularly disturbing assessment of his mental health.  More importantly, the parents have to question to what degree they are to blame for their son's problems and misdeeds.  To some readers, this book is not just a legal thriller; it's a portrait of a family facing an unfathomable crisis.  For me, it's a story of a child whose parents are victimized for granting him too much privacy.  Either way, it's a crowd pleaser.

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