Sunday Salon: Defending Jacob Review

Product DetailsDefending Jacob by William Landay

Release date: 2012 / 432 pages

Synopsis (from Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Review: One of my favorite things about being in a book club is experiencing new genres.  I know I could do this on my own, but I probably wouldn’t since there are so many titles in my favorite genres that I’ll never experience.  One of my new book club’s picks last year was Defending Jacob — a crime thriller that is exceedingly character-driven (which I love).  I usually avoid thrillers out of an aversion to violence, and because I assume this genre tends to be more plot-driven than character-oriented.

But Defending Jacob has the page-turning speed of most thrillers with the added benefit of morally-complex characters (at least regarding the protagonist — a few of the other characters were a bit too good or too evil, as expected). The premise of Jacob reminded me of We Need to Talk About Kevin — well-meaning parents who may have produced a morally deficient child.  Yet Jacob focuses on the father’s perspective, which was refreshing and credible and not quite as devastating somehow.

Defending Jacob‘s narrative structure transverses two court cases as well as the daily lives of the parents of the accused child.  The point of view is of the father, but he explores his wife and son’s experience thoroughly, so all three seem well-represented.  I loved the slow suspense of the novel — and how the reader is more aware or informed than the narrator throughout.  I also loved the moral dilemmas presented — what is the responsibility of a criminal’s parent?  What would WE do if we suspected our own child of a heinous crime — or, at the very least, of moral vacancy?

I passed this novel on to my husband and then father-in-law, so I cannot give away my copy.  But I strongly recommend this as a great discussion-generator for book clubs!


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3 Responses to Sunday Salon: Defending Jacob Review

  1. techeditor says:

    Your opinion is exactly as mine was when I read this. I love character-driven thrillers.

  2. CarolK says:

    If you liked Defending Jacob (and I really did), I’d suggest We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. It was quite chilling, a bit depressing but psychologically interesting. We know right from the get-go that Kevin has killed seven of his classmates in his high school gym, just a few days shy of his sixteenth birthday. What we don’t know is how he got there. Shriver does a great job of looking at nature vs. nuture, the perennial question of what you’ll do for a loved one and how the actions of our children affect a marriage.

  3. Kristen says:

    I loved Kevin, Carol — I had first read Nineteen Minutes, then read Kevin soon thereafter. “Chilling” nails it… So well done!

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