Defending Jacob, William Landay, Delacorte Books, 2012, 421 pp
I read this for one of my reading groups. It was a fast, sometimes disturbing, but essentially for me, mediocre read, along the lines of Jodi Piccoult. I felt the author did not ever quite decide what kind of book he was writing.
If Defending Jacob had to fit into a genre, it would be either Crime Fiction or Legal Thriller. Indeed, William Landay was educated as a lawyer and has worked as an assistant district attorney. In the novel, Andy Barber, father of Jacob, is an assistant district attorney. When his son is accused of murdering a classmate at his middle school, Andy's position becomes a liability.
We discussed long and hard at the reading group meeting. It is never made completely clear in the book whether or not Jacob committed the murder. Three of the eight members of my group thought he did not, five were convinced he did! I imagine that the author would be curious to know that because the main theme of the novel was the laughable but horrible inability of the legal system to determine the guilt or innocence of individuals who go to trial. Underneath that failing are the investigative shortcomings of law enforcement bodies.
Even though Landay attempts to meld the above with family issues, societal patterns and questions about whether or not antisocial violence is an inherited trait, I perceived that he was really gnawing away on this question: how many murderers and other vicious criminals are at large in society and how many innocent people are sitting in our jails?
I had some problems with all aspects of Landay's writing including his style, his plotting, and his characters. But in the end I realized that I am not critical of Sara Paretsky or even Janet Evanovich on those points. If a crime/mystery/legal thriller tells a good story and raises important points about our live, that is fine. But Sara and Janet write from a well worked out stance. I am not so sure about Mr Landay.
(Defending Jacob is available in mass market paperback on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore. It is also available in other formats by order.)