Defending Jacob by William Landay

Published: 2012

Genre: courtroom mystery

Length: 421 pages

Setting: a suburb of Boston, in the recent past (when Facebook was still a new thing for kids only)

Interest: It was our book club choice for the month

Summary: We start out at a funeral for Ben Rifkin, a middle-school boy who was murdered in a park near the school. The assistant DA for the county, Andrew Barber, takes the case and has a hard time finding any suspects. Eventually, he identified Leonard Patz, a convicted child molester who lives nearby, as a suspect. Unfortunately, his son, Jacob, is also suspect and soon charged. The family basically implodes. Andy thinks there’s no way Jacob did it, but his wife, Laurie, has doubts. The trial proceeds with neither the prosecutor or defender gaining the upper hand. Patz commits suicide (under circumstances Andy find questionable) and leaves a confession, so Jacob is cleared. The family rejoices and goes on a vacation to celebrate. All is going well until the girl Jacob’s been hanging out with disappears. We also discover that the testimony between Barber and another DA has been about whether or not to indict Laurie on charges for killing Jacob.

Final thoughts: This is a great book for book club because there’s so much to talk about. Number one was did Jacob kill Ben? Jacob’s father is the narrator and he’s pretty upfront that he believes in Jacob’s innocence. I’m not sure he’s a very reliable narrator, though. I was also intrigued to find out the court proceedings weren’t for a retrial on Jacob, as I had been assuming the whole book. Instead, it was a trial against Laurie. I guess she decided to take things into her own hands and make sure no other kids got hurt around him. There’s also a whole thread about violence running in the Barber family and is violence genetic or learned, but I wasn’t as interested in that part of the story. I was fascinated to see how the family tried to get back to normal after the trial. Jacob wasn’t charged with murder, but no one really believed he was safe to be around. What do you do in that situation? Do you move and try to start over somewhere else or just stick it out and try to get back to normal? Lots of things to think about from this book!

Title comes from: Andrew and Laurie did a lot of work defending Jacob from murder charges.

Reading challenges fulfilled: a D in my title Reading the Alphabet Challenge and #3 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge

If you’re interested in purchasing the book, you can click on the cover image to follow an Amazon affiliate link to the book and thanks for supporting my blog!


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