Defending Jacob

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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.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob ...

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Defending Jacob

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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.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control.

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  • Defending Jacob
    Defending Jacob  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

For the past twenty years, Andy Barber has been a happily married, respected assistant D.A. in a small Massachusetts town. Within weeks, his professional situation and marriage crumble under the pressure of a case involving the stabbing murder of a teenager. Barber's suspicions originally focus on a neighborhood pedophile, but before long, damaging evidence mounts that incriminates Jacob, his own 14-year-old son. Caught between desperation, loyalty, and instinct, the tenacious prosecutor struggles to make sense of disturbing revelations. Already a Dagger Award winner, William Landay's Defending Jacobs brilliantly combines the best features of a gripping psychological thriller, a realistic courtroom drama, and a moving portrait of a family in meltdown.

Sessalee Hensley

Publishers Weekly
Andy Barber, a respected First Assistant DA who lives in Newton, Mass., with his gentle wife, Laurie, and their 14-year-old son, Jacob, must face the unthinkable in Dagger Award–winner Landay’s harrowing third suspense novel. When Ben Rifkin, Jacob’s classmate, is found stabbed to death in the woods, Internet accusations and incontrovertible evidence point to big, handsome Jacob. Andy’s prosecutorial gut insists a child molester is the real killer, but as Jacob’s trial proceeds and Andy’s marriage crumbles under the forced revelation of old secrets, horror builds on horror toward a breathtakingly brutal outcome. Landay (The Strangler), a former DA, mixes gritty court reporting with Andy’s painful confrontation with himself, forcing readers willy-nilly to realize the end is never the end when, as Landay claims, the line between truth and justice has become so indistinct as to appear imaginary. This searing narrative proves the ancient Greek tragedians were right: the worst punishment is not death but living with what you—knowingly or unknowingly—have done. Author tour. (Feb.)
People Magazine
Gripping, emotional murder saga....The shocking ending will have readers pulling up their bedcovers to ward off the haunting chill. (three of four stars)
Associated Press Staff
Landay has written a legal thriller that's comparable to classics such as Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent....Tragic and shocking, Defending Jacob is sure to generate buzz.
Huffington Post
Defending Jacob is a novel that comes to you out of the blue and manages to keep you reading feverishly until the whole thing is completed....a stunning that should draw attention to the possibilities it raises. In the next few weeks, Defending Jacob is the novel most readers are going to be discussing.
Florida Sun-Sentinel
Superb...the end is one of those shocking twists that is as believable as it is surprising....Defending Jacob soars as Landay's rich plot weaves in parenting skills, unconditional love, and the law.
The Missourian
The story ends perfectly.
Entertainment Weekly
Like John Grisham and Scott Turow, Landay is a lawyer with a solid grasp of how to use courtroom scenes to advance his jigsaw-puzzle story....with a grabby premise and careful plotting, he keeps you turning the pages through the shocking gut-punch of an ending. B+
Portland Oregonian
Do you like a mystery with a good twist at the end? How about one with the literary equivalent of skating's triple axel?....Hang on for that shocking and yet believable ending—with a triple twist you won't see coming.
West Virginia Sentinel
This is a gut-wrenching book for parents that will keep you thinking long until the last page is through. The taut suspense will keep readers guessing.
Business Week
Landay does a lovely job setting up the many strands of this complex novel.
Defending Jacob hits uncomfortably but unerringly close to home, and is as compelling a work as you are likely to pick up this year.
Defending Jacob is one of the most disturbing books of the year, and soon to be one of the most talked-about. (top pick in mystery)
[Landay] reaches a new level of excellence with this riveting, knock-your-socks-off legal thriller. With its masterfully crafted characterizations and dialogue, emotional depth, and frightening implications, the novel rivals the best of Scott Turow and John Grisham. Don't miss it. (starred review)
Library Journal
Andy Barber has been the top district attorney in his small, middle-class, Massachusetts town for 20 years. When a teenage boy is murdered, Andy focuses on a neighborhood pedophile as the chief suspect. There are concerns about a conflict of interest since Andy's teenage son, Jacob, attended the same school as the murdered boy and the investigation seems to be lagging. But after Jacob's best friend provides evidence against him, Jacob is arrested. Andy is taken off the case and suspended, but he is determined to prove his son's innocence. VERDICT This brilliant novel by the author of The Strangler and the award-winning Mission Flats is equal parts legal thriller and dysfunctional family saga, culminating in a shocking ending. Skillful plotting and finely drawn characters result in a haunting story reminiscent of Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent. [See Prepub Alert, 8/8/11.]—Stacy Alesi, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., Boca Raton, FL
Kirkus Reviews
Landay does the seemingly impossible by coming up with a new wrinkle in the crowded subgenre of courtroom thrillers. Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber is called to a gruesome crime scene after Ben Rifkin, a 14-year-old boy, has been brutally stabbed in a city park. One suspect seems likely, a pedophile who lives nearby and is known to frequent the park, but suspicion turns quickly to another, much more unlikely, suspect--Andy's son Jacob, one of Ben's classmates. It seems Ben is not the paragon of virtue he is made out to be, for he's got a mean streak and has been harassing Jacob...but is this a sufficient motive for a 14-year-old to commit murder? Some of Jacob's fellow students post messages on Facebook suggesting he's guilty of the crime, and Jacob also admits to having shown a "cool" knife to his friends. When Andy finds the knife, he quickly disposes of it, but even he's not sure if he does this because he suspects his son is innocent or because he suspects his son is guilty. Complicating the family dynamic is Laurie, Jacob's mother, who's at least half convinced that her son might indeed be capable of such a heinous act--and it turns out Andy has concealed his own past from Laurie because both his father and grandfather have been murderers, and he fears he may have both inherited and passed down to Jacob a gene associated with aggressive behavior in males. Landay is yet another lawyer-turned-writer, and it's inevitable that he'll be compared to Scott Turow, but this novel succeeds on its own merits.
Janet Maslin
…a clever blend of legal thriller and issue-oriented family implosion…in [Defending Jacob], nothing is predictable. All bets are off.
The New York Times
Patrick Anderson
In the publicity material for William Landay's Defending Jacob, its publisher and several advance readers liken the novel to Scott Turow's Presumed Innocent, arguably the finest of American legal thrillers. The hype is justified. I don't think Landay's novel has quite the elegance or gravitas of Turow's, but it's an exceptionally serious, suspenseful, engrossing story that deserves and should achieve a large audience.
The Washington Post
From the Publisher
“Ingenious . . .  Nothing is predictable. All bets are off.”—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“A legal thriller that’s comparable to classics such as Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent . . . Tragic and shocking, Defending Jacob is sure to generate buzz.”—Associated Press

“Stunning . . . a novel that comes to you out of the blue and manages to keep you reading feverishly until the whole thing is completed.”—The Huffington Post

“Gripping . . . [Landay] keeps you turning the pages through the shocking gut-punch of an ending.”—Entertainment Weekly

“Gripping, emotional murder saga . . . The shocking ending will have readers pulling up their bedcovers to ward off the haunting chill.”—People

“The hype is justified. . . . Exceptionally serious, suspenseful, engrossing.”—The Washington Post

“Not since Scott Turow has a crime thriller—any thriller, though this too happens to be a literary legal thriller—shaken me by the throat like this. It’s a stunning, shocking, emotionally harrowing ride in which the reader is plunged into a riveting but terrible murder trial and the equally heartbreaking implosion of a loving family.”—Daily Mail

“Even with unexpected twists and turns, the two narratives interlock like the teeth of a zipper, building to a tough and unflinching finale. This novel has major motion picture written all over it.”—The Boston Globe

“[William] Landay does the seemingly impossible by coming up with a new wrinkle in the crowded subgenre of courtroom thrillers. . . . It’s inevitable that he’ll be compared to Scott Turow, but this novel succeeds on its own merits.”—Kirkus Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385344227
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/31/2012
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 239,682
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.74 (h) x 1.41 (d)

Meet the Author

William Landay is the author of The Strangler, a Los Angeles Times Favorite Crime Book of the Year, and Mission Flats, winner of the Creasey Memorial Dagger Award for Best First Crime Novel and a Barry Award nominee. A former district attorney who holds degrees from Yale and Boston College of Law, Landay lives in Boston, where he is at work on his next novel of suspense.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
In the Grand Jury  
Mr. Logiudice:     State your name, please.  
Witness:     Andrew Barber.  
Mr. Logiudice:     What do you do for work, Mr. Barber?  
Witness:  I was an assistant district attorney in this county for 22 years.  
Mr. Logiudice:     "Was." What do you do for work now?  
Witness:  I suppose you'd say I'm unemployed.  
In April 2008, Neal Logiudice finally subpoenaed me to appear before the grand jury. By then it was too late. Too late for his case, certainly, but also too late for Logiudice. His reputation was already damaged beyond repair, and his career along with it. A prosecutor can limp along with a damaged reputation for a while, but his colleagues will watch him like wolves and eventually he will be forced out, for the good of the pack. I have seen it many times: an ADA is irreplaceable one day, forgotten the next.  

I have always had a soft spot for Neal Logiudice (pronounced la-JOO-dis). He came to the DA's office a dozen years before this, right out of law school. He was twenty-nine then, short, with thinning hair and a little potbelly. His mouth was overstuffed with teeth; he had to force it shut, like a full suitcase, which left him with a sour, pucker-mouthed expression. I used to get after him not to make this face in front of juries-nobody likes a scold-but he did it unconsciously. He would get up in front of the jury box shaking his head and pursing his lips like a schoolmarm or a priest, and in every juror there stirred a secret desire to vote against him. Inside the office, Logiudice was a bit of an operator and a kiss-ass. He got a lot of teasing. Other ADAs tooled on him endlessly, but he got it from everyone, even people who worked with the office at arm's length-cops, clerks, secretaries, people who did not usually make their contempt for a prosecutor quite so obvious. They called him Milhouse, after a dweeby character on The Simpsons, and they came up with a thousand variations on his name: LoFoolish, LoDoofus, Sid Vicious, Judicious, on and on. But to me, Logiudice was okay. He was just innocent. With the best intentions, he smashed people's lives and never lost a minute of sleep over it. He only went after bad guys, after all. That is the Prosecutor's Fallacy-They are bad guys because I am prosecuting them-and Logiudice was not the first to be fooled by it, so I forgave him for being righteous. I even liked him. I rooted for him precisely because of his oddities, the unpronounceable name, the snaggled teeth-which any of his peers would have had straightened with expensive braces, paid for by Mummy and Daddy-even his naked ambition. I saw something in the guy. An air of sturdiness in the way he bore up under so much rejection, how he just took it and took it. He was obviously a working-class kid determined to get for himself what so many others had simply been handed. In that way, and only in that way, I suppose, he was just like me.  

Now, a dozen years after he arrived in the office, despite all his quirks, he had made it, or nearly made it. Neal Logiudice was First Assistant, the number two man in the Middlesex District Attorney's Office, the DA's right hand and chief trial attorney. He took over the job from me-this kid who once said to me, "Andy, you're exactly what I want to be someday." I should have seen it coming.   In the grand jury room that morning, the jurors were in a sullen, defeated mood. They sat, thirty-odd men and women who had not been clever enough to find a way out of serving, all crammed into those school chairs with teardrop-shaped desks for chair arms. They understood their jobs well enough by now. Grand juries serve for months, and they figure out pretty quickly what the gig is all about: accuse, point your finger, name the wicked one.
A grand jury proceeding is not a trial. There is no judge in the room and no defense lawyer. The prosecutor runs the show. It is an investigation and in theory a check on the prosecutor's power, since the grand jury decides whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to haul a suspect into court for trial. If there is enough evidence, the grand jury grants the prosecutor an indictment, his ticket to Superior Court. If not, they return a "no bill" and the case is over before it begins. In practice, no bills are rare. Most grand juries indict. Why not? They only see one side of the case.  
But in this case, I suspect the jurors knew Logiudice did not have a case. Not today. The truth was not going to be found, not with evidence this stale and tainted, not after everything that had happened. It had been over a year already-over twelve months since the body of a fourteen-year-old boy was found in the woods with three stab wounds arranged in a line across the chest as if he'd been forked with a trident. But it was not the time, so much. It was everything else. Too late, and the grand jury knew it.  

I knew it too.  

Only Logiudice was undeterred. He pursed his lips in that odd way of his. He reviewed his notes on a yellow legal pad, considered his next question. He was doing just what I'd taught him. The voice in his head was mine: Never mind how weak your case is. Stick to the system. Play the game the same way it's been played the last five-hundred-odd years, use the same gutter tactic that has always governed cross-examination-lure, trap, fuck.  

He said, "Do you recall when you first heard about the Rifkin boy's murder?"  
"Describe it."  
"I got a call, I think, first from CPAC-that's thes tate police. Then two more came in right away, one from the Newton police, one from the duty DA. I may have the order wrong, but basically the phone started ringing off the hook."  
"When was this?"  
"Thursday, April 12, 2007, around nine A.M., right after the body was discovered."  
"Why were you called?"  
"I was the First Assistant. I was notified of every murder in the county. It was standard procedure."  
"But you did not keep every case, did you? You did not personally investigate and try every homicide that came in?"  
"No, of course not. I didn't have that kind of time.  I kept very few homicides. Most I assigned to other ADAs."  
"But this one you kept."  
"Did you decide immediately that you were going to keep it for yourself, or did you only decide that later?"  
"I decided almost immediately."  
"Why? Why did you want this case in particular?"  
"I had an understanding with the district attorney, Lynn Canavan: certain cases I would try personally."  
"What sort of cases?"  
"High-priority cases."  
"Why you?"  
"I was the senior trial lawyer in the office. She wanted to be sure that important cases were handled properly."  
"Who decided if a case was high priority?"  
"Me, in the first instance. In consultation with the district attorney, of course, but things tend to move pretty fast at the beginning. There isn't usually time for a meeting."  
"So you decided the Rifkin murder was a high-priority case?"  
"Of course."  
"Because it involved the murder of a child. I think we also had an idea it might blow up, catch the media's attention. It was that kind of case. It happened in a wealthy town, with a wealthy victim. We'd already had a few cases like that. At the beginning we did not know exactly what it was, either. In some ways it looked like a schoolhouse killing, a Columbine thing. Basically, we didn't know what the hell it was, but it smelled like a big case. If it had turned out to be a smaller thing, I would have passed it off later, but in those first few hours I had to be sure everything was done right."  
"Did you inform the district attorney that you had a conflict of interest?"  
"Why not?"  
"Because I didn't have one."  
"Wasn't your son, Jacob, a classmate of the dead boy?"  
"Yes, but I didn't know the victim. Jacob didn't know him either, as far as I was aware. I'd never even heard the dead boy's name."  
"You did not know the kid. All right. But you did know that he and your son were in the same grade at the same middle school in the same town?"  
"And you still didn't think you were conflicted out?  You didn't think your objectivity might be called into question?"  
"No. Of course not."  
"Even in hindsight? You insist, you- Even in hindsight, you still don't feel the circumstances gave even the appearance of a conflict?"  
"No, there was nothing improper about it. There was nothing even unusual about it. The fact that I lived in the town where the murder happened? That was a good thing. In smaller counties, the prosecutor often lives in the community where a crime happens, he often knows the people affected by it. So what? So he wants to catch the murderer even more? That's not a conflict of interest. Look, the bottom line is, I have a conflict with all murderers. That's my job. This was a horrible, horrible crime; it was my job to do something about it. I was determined to do just that."  
"Okay." Logiudice lowered his eyes to his pad. No sense attacking the witness so early in his testimony. He would come back to this point later in the day, no doubt, when I was tired. For now, best to keep the temperature down.  
"You understand your Fifth Amendment rights?"  
"Of course."  
"And you have waived them?"  
"Apparently. I'm here. I'm talking."  
Titters from the grand jury.  
Logiudice laid down his pad, and with it he seemed to set aside his game plan for a moment. "Mr. Barber-Andy-could I just ask you something: why not invoke them? Why not remain silent?" The next sentence he left unsaid: That's what I would do.  
I thought for a moment that this was a tactic, a bit of play acting. But Logiudice seemed to mean it. He was worried I was up to something. He did not want to be tricked, to look like a fool.  
I said, "I have no desire to remain silent. I want the truth to come out."  
"No matter what?"  
"I believe in the system, same as you, same as everyone here."  

Now, this was not exactly true. I do not believe in the court system, at least I do not think it is especially good at finding the truth. No lawyer does. We have all seen too many mistakes, too many bad results. A jury verdict is just a guess-a well-intentioned guess, generally, but you simply cannot tell fact from fiction by taking a vote. And yet, despite all that, I do believe in the power of the ritual. I believe in the religious symbolism, the black robes, the marble-columned courthouses like Greek temples. When we hold a trial, we are saying a mass. We are praying together to do what is right and to be protected from danger, and that is worth doing whether or not our prayers are actually heard.  

Of course, Logiudice did not go in for that sort of solemn bullshit. He lived in the lawyer's binary world, guilty or not guilty, and he was determined to keep me pinned there.  

"You believe in the system, do you?" he sniffed. "All right, Andy, let's get back to it, then. We'll let the system do its work." He gave the jury a knowing, smart-ass look.  

Attaboy, Neal. Don't let the witness jump into bed with the jury-you jump into bed with the jury. Jump in there and snuggle right up beside them under the blanket and leave the witness out in the cold. I smirked. I would have stood up and applauded if I'd been allowed to, because I taught him to do precisely this. Why deny myself a little fatherly pride? I must not have been all bad-I turned Neal Logiudice into a half-decent lawyer, after all.  

"So go on already," I said, nuzzling the jury's neck. "Stop screwing around and get on with it, Neal."  

He gave me a look, then picked up his yellow pad again and scanned it, looking for his place. I could practically read the thought spelled out across his forehead: Lure, trap, fuck. "Okay," he said, "let's pick it up at the aftermath of the murder."  
2 |
Our Crowd  
April 2007: twelve months earlier.  
When the Rifkins opened their home for the shiva, the Jewish period of mourning, it seemed the whole town came. The family would not be allowed to mourn in private. The boy's murder was a public event; the grieving would be as well. The house was so full that when the murmur of conversation occasionally swelled, the whole thing began to feel awkwardly like a party, until the crowd lowered its voice as one, as if an invisible volume knob were being turned.  
I made apologetic faces as I moved through this crowd, repeating "Excuse me," turning this way and that to shuffle by.  

People stared with curious expressions. Someone said, "That's him, that's Andy Barber," but I did not stop. We were four days past the murder now, and everyone knew I was handling the case. They wanted to ask about it, naturally, about suspects and clues and all that, but they did not dare. For the moment, the details of the investigation did not matter, only the raw fact that an innocent kid was dead.  

Murdered! The news sucker-punched them. Newton had no crime to speak of. What the locals knew about violence necessarily came from news reports and TV shows. They had supposed that violent crime was limited to the city, to an underclass of urban hillbillies. They were wrong about that, of course, but they were not fools and they would not have been so shocked by the murder of an adult. What made the Rifkin murder so profane was that it involved one of the town's children. It was a violation of Newton's self-image. For awhile a sign had stood in Newton Centre declaring the place "A Community of Families, A Family of Communities," and you often heard it repeated that Newton was "a good place to raise kids." Which indeed it was. It brimmed with test-prep centers and after-school tutors, karate dojos and Saturday soccer leagues. The town's young parents especially prized this idea of Newton as a child's paradise. Many of them had left the hip, sophisticated city to move here. They had accepted massive expenses, stultifying monotony, and the queasy disappointment of settling for a conventional life. To these ambivalent residents, the whole suburban project made sense only because it was "a good place to raise kids." They had staked everything on it.

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Interviews & Essays

A Conversation with William Landay
Interview by Tess Taylor

Andy Barber, the narrator and protagonist in your book, is a guy who went to Yale and to work in a DA's office. You also attended Yale before becoming a DA. Any veiled autobiography here?
Well, certainly I drew on aspects of my own life as I was creating Andy, but there's no "autobiography." I never thought of Andy as a stand-in for myself, even when writing in his voice in first person — when I was pretending to be him. Actually, Andy began as an amalgam of several respected, soft-spoken, older trial lawyers whom I met during my years as an assistant D.A. But a funny thing happens as you write: you begin with a real-life model for a character, but you change him a little, then a little more, and at some point the model falls away and the character emerges as his own person. It's a mysterious fission. In the end, Andy did not resemble any of the lawyers I had in mind when I started.
But Andy is my creation and inevitably aspects of him reflect me, probably in ways more intimate than just biography. For all his fluency in the courtroom, he's essentially an introvert, as I am. He is doggedly loyal, especially in his determination not to abandon his son. Does that make him a good father or a good person? I don't know. Readers will have to decide for themselves. But I like him for it. Wouldn't we all like to think our dads (or spouses or friends) would stand by us, no matter what?
Jacob Barber, the accused murderer in your book, is a teenager, an 8th grader who is being tried as an adult. Are 8th graders currently tried this way in Massachusetts? And why that age? What makes a teenager a rich protagonist?
Yes, this is the current law. In Massachusetts, all defendants age 14 or older accused of first-degree murder are tried as adults, and if convicted they receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole.
The trial sequence in Defending Jacob is rendered about as accurately as good storytelling allows. Obviously there is compression for pace. Real trials move slowly. Technical rules play a larger part. But I didn't have to depart from reality much. Criminal trials are inherently theatrical — a live dramatic performance leading to the climax of a verdict. That is why writers, practically since Plato, have always been drawn to them.
Choosing to write about a teenager was a personal as well as creative decision. I have two boys myself. They are 8 and 10 years old. Those kids mean everything to me. My books have always been about family, but with Defending Jacob I wanted to write something even closer to my heart, something that would bring together the crime world of my D.A. years and the life that I live now, of being a young father. (I should point out, by the way, that my kids are perfectly well behaved. Neither has been accused of murder, at least! Disturbing the peace, maybe. )
And adolescence is such a powerful, universal experience. Many readers will have a teenager in their lives now or remember the turmoil of being one. It's a difficult time for parents and kids both — full of secrets, hormones, drama. High emotion is a storyteller's red meat.
You seem attuned Jacob's uneasy adolescent ways, particularly how he uses media — Twitter, Facebook, blogging. What about the technological revolution — especially as it's impacting young people — fascinates you?
I'm a bit of a tech geek myself. I use all these new media. Some I enjoy more than others. (Facebook creeps me out, honestly.) But I have no doubt that, whatever you may think of the "social web," it is hard to overstate its influence on our daily lives, especially the lives of young people. These "new media" are now a routine part of how we relate to one another. They tend, ironically, to make us feel less connected. It's fitting that we call them media: they mediate, they add a filter between us that can leave us feeling isolated.
To me, there is nothing inherently frightening in kids using these new ways of communicating. Trading gossip on Facebook isn't all that different from gossiping on the phone or passing notes in class. There is one key difference, though: the reach and anonymity of the web — where a kid sitting alone in his bedroom, feeling emboldened, typing on a laptop, can reach a very large audience — creates the risk of disaster. Ordinary bullying becomes cyber-bullying. Teasing becomes vicious. Kids do get hurt.
In Defending Jacob, the Barbers are shocked to find what their son Jacob has been up to on the Internet. I don't want readers to be freaked out by that aspect of the story, but if they take it as a wake-up call, an opportunity to figure out what their kids are doing online, then that is a good thing.
Your book also has a science angle — exploring something the book calls "the murder gene." When you're crafting evidence for a fictional piece, what kinds of research do you do into, say, contemporary uses of science in the courtroom?
The science in the novel is a very real area of research. It's usually called behavioral genetics — the study of how genes affect behavior.
The subject tends to alarm people. It's important to keep this emerging science in perspective. Genes are not simple triggers. No one is hardwired to commit murder or any other crime. Our actions are always the result of stupendously complex gene-environment interactions, and environment is likely to remain the more important influence by far. Nurture, not nature. At the same time, having mapped the human genome, we are entering a new era in which we finally have real insight into the "nature" side of the debate.
The specific genetic variation mentioned in Defending Jacob, a mutation of the MAOA gene, is quite real. Linked to aggressive behavior, it has been called the "warrior gene." A few details about it were elided to serve the story, but it is generally described accurately.
I learn as much as I can about any scientific issue I use in my books, but I am not a scientist. When push comes to shove, I do fudge facts as necessary to tell a good story. I think the job of novelists — and all artists, I suppose — is not to portray the latest science with 100% accuracy. It is to begin to think about what science means for ordinary people in human terms. Raising questions about science, about its implications for society — that is as important as science itself. We still can't build a human out of parts, but we haven't stopped thinking about Frankenstein. In its own way, Defending Jacob raises similar questions.
Defending Jacob is more psychologically upsetting than actually gory. Act for act, there's less physical violence in this book than in many crime novels — only scattered incidents of bloodshed, suspected but unconfirmed murders. Nevertheless, the weight of what might have happened is heavy. Do you have a philosophy about how much actual violence to show versus how much to imply?
It's simple: I have no problem with storytellers using violence (or sex or profanity) so long as it is true to the story. The trouble comes in using cheap violence — to give an easy thrill or to indulge people's worst impulses (bloodlust, misogyny). It's phony suspense. In Defending Jacob, I didn't need to show much. The foreboding actually reflects how little violence the reader sees.
I was impressed with the book's flow. I devoured it in one gulp, so to speak. Can you let us into your craft? How do you plot a thriller?
Thank you. Well, I outline fanatically. I am a long thinker and a slow writer, though I am trying to get faster. (My children have an unfortunate habit of eating. And outgrowing their clothes. Hence the need to produce more books!) Probably careful plotting reflects my personality. I am meticulous by nature. I can't imagine speed-writing anything that happens to pop into my head.
As for my typical workday, it really depends. Early on, when I am still trying to figure out what my story is, my days can be unstructured and frankly very frustrating. Toward the end, words tend to come in waves and the days get very long. The last fifty pages of Defending Jacob were written in one long sprint over the course of only a few days. I work exclusively on a computer — my outlines, notes and drafts rarely ever get printed out. I often work in coffee shops. So you may see me one day, hunched over a laptop, typing madly with two fingers or (more likely) staring into space.
Who are the writers you are reading now? What recent books inspire you?One of the best parts of becoming a writer is that I have the privilege of reading advance copies of books before they are published. One of these, The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson*, absolutely blew me away. It's out in January and I hope lots of people read it. Set in North Korea, it is the story of Pak Jun Do, a man who rises from miserable roots to stand beside the "Dear Leader" himself, Kim Jong-il. It is an epic story — a big book in every sense — and utterly riveting. Kim Jong-il's death has put North Korea in the headlines lately. I hope the increased level of interest somehow helps Adam's amazing novel find the audience it deserves.
[Johnson's novel Parasites Like Us was a Discover Great New Writers selection in 2003. -Ed]

Bonus Essay By The Author: Some thoughts on "The Unwritten Rules of the Legal Thriller"

I have been asked for a few words from on high about "the unwritten rules of the legal thriller." I would be delighted to boil down these rules to a few pithy, authoritative commandments and deliver them in a handy numbered list, like Moses or Tyler Durden. It would be helpful to have the damn things spelled out, finally. But honestly I can think of only one rule for the legal thriller, which is that there are no rules for the legal thriller. There are also no rules for the non-legal thriller, the non-thriller, or any other type of novel. It sounds pedantic, but it's true: "rules" in this context is an optimist's word for clichés. If a writer hears of such a "rule," he should break it right away. It's the only way to produce original, surprising work. Readers, after all, know the "rules" too.

This will be especially disappointing to lawyers, who take a semi-professional interest in the legal thriller and who are sticklers for rules to begin with. I hate to disappoint this audience especially, since I used to be a lawyer myself and I share their weakness for rulemaking. So here, at least, are some general principles. If you want to call them rules, well, that's your business.

A first principle of legal-storytelling, to me, is that story is more important than facts. A writer, however knowledgeable about the legal world, cannot feel bound by the truth. John le Carré put this point succinctly in an interview once: "It is better to be credible than authentic." In other words, it does not matter how things are actually done by real lawyers in the real world. You should feel free to fictionalize — to improve upon reality — in order to produce a good story, so long as you can do it persuasively. You will find that your fictions are often more convincing, more "true," than the truth.

There are many famous examples of this sort of embroidering. Spies never spoke of moles and honeytraps and lamplighters until le Carré invented those terms. Mobsters never "went to the mattresses" until Mario Puzo used that phrase in The Godfather. In each case, actual spies and mobsters soon took up the jargon of their fictional counterparts. Realism was more real than reality. What could reality do but follow along?

Law in particular needs this sort of dramatizing. Any working lawyer knows that in reality the daily practice of law is not the stuff of novels. Cases drag on for years. There is too much paperwork, too much technical procedure, too little drama. All those dull parts have to be edited out. On the other hand, you can easily go too far, as most lawyers-turned-writers do. The action-movie clichés of some legal thrillers — the fistfights and car chases and gymnastic sex and so on — obviously don't ring true. The trick is to invent just enough, to find the drama in what lawyers actually do. That is not as hard as it sounds. You simply have to recall that, in our lawyered-up society, most of the dramatic crises people face — violence, injury, lust, separation, abuse of power, heartbreak of every kind — find their way into the courtroom.

And when they do, what then? You have your premise, a legal case that finds its way to trial. How to describe that trial?

To me, the key is that it is not about the trial, not really. Yes, trials are inherently dramatic. They are built on conflict and confrontation. Naturally, storytellers are drawn to them. But it is always the underlying human struggle — a murder, a divorce, a custody battle, a theft — that is the real source of drama. The trial itself is just the setting, the stage. All the strategy, all the insider-y atmosphere of the courtroom, the cutting-edge legal issues, all the lawyers' business is secondary to the people involved. Character comes first. If the reader doesn't care about the characters, she won't care about the trial either. The entire exercise will feel sterile. It will be just another episode of "Law & Order" — and who, really, ever lost a moment of sleep over "Law & Order"?

So there you have it, the iron laws of the legal thriller. Now go forth and break them.

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Reading Group Guide

Discussion Guide for Defending Jacob
1. How would you have handled this situation if you were Andy? Would you make the same choices he made? Where would you differ the most?
2. Before and during the trial, how would you have handled the situation if you were Laurie? Do you feel she made strong choices as a mother and a wife?
3. Is Andy a good father? Why or why not?
4. Do you believe Jacob is guilty?
5. Is Jacob a product of his upbringing? Do you think he is he a violent person because his environment makes him violent, or do you think he has violent inclinations since birth?
6. Bulleying is such a hot topic in today's media. How did the author incorporate it into the story, and do you think it's role had anything to do with Jacob's disposition? How do you think people should stop adolescent bullying?
7. How much of a factor did Jacob's age play into your sympathies for him or lack thereof? If Jacob were seventeen, would you view him differently? What about nine?
8. Do you think Neal Logiudice acts ethically in this novel? What about Andy? What about Laurie?
9. What was the most damning piece of evidence against Jacob? Was there anything that you felt exonerated him?
10. If Jacob hadn't been accused, how do you think his life would have turned out? What kind of a man do you think he would grow up to be?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 2690 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 2691 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 31, 2012

    You feel like your in this book

    This book grabs you from the first page! It's heart racing, strong filled with emotions and you feel like your the parents! It really puts you in perspective of what it would be like if this was your child. I couldn't put the book down! It takes you right into the story and you can feel every turn, every emotion, everything that the author is writing!!

    173 out of 229 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 1, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Superb Courtroom Drama!

    William Landay knocked my socks off with this thriller that grabbed me from the first page and didn't let go until the last sentence. The book shows how the judgment of the most professional people can be skewed when they get emotionally involved in their work with a relative. Andrew Barber is an Assistant District Attorney called upon to open an investigation into the murder of a teen. Andrew decides to take it on himself and doesn't get swayed by the fact that the victim was a student in the same school as Andrew's teen son.

    When some troubling things seem to give clues pointing to his son (Jacob), Andrew brushes them away. Even when his son becomes the prime suspect, Andrew chooses to look towards another suspect. Andrew's actions will later come into question and he will have to defend what he did to the man who was eager to take his job.

    Andrew must also confront his "hidden" past and the author brings into play the theory of a "murder gene" where the tendency to be violent is passed down from father to son through the genes. A pure "tour de force." Should not be missed!

    105 out of 122 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2012

    Waiting for the movie!

    One of the best books I have read in years.
    I found myself bouncing back and forth with, "he did it! No he couldn't have done it! Oh my God, maybe he did do it!" Even with all the evidence piling up, and the psychological profile against his son, Andy had me seeing through his blind eyes right up until the very end. And then I STILL found myself wanting to give his son the benefit of doubt!
    After I finished the book, I was still so engrossed in the story that I felt compelled to explain the whole darn thing to my husband! I read alot and have NEVER described in detail any book to my husband. I couldn't seem to get the story out of my head.
    That's how good this book is. It will draw you in and take your breath away. The ending...oh my God, the ending. You won't see it coming.

    79 out of 94 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2012

    One of the VERY best books I've in forever

    I'm not sure I can write a review to do Landay's book justice, but I will try. He has woven together the very best of a legal/courtroom thriller and a story of family/parental devotion told through a character's voice (a DA, who is also a father) that is as compelling as it is genius. This book rivals the best of Grisham, Turow, Connolly - and may even surpass them. It is an absolute MUST READ.

    71 out of 86 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 4, 2012

    Highly Recommend

    A child is murdered on his way to school. ADA Andy Barber decides to keep the case, seeing no conflict based on the fact his son, Jake, is another 8th grader at the same school. Until Jake is charged with murder.

    How well does anyone know their child? When students are finally interviewed concerning the murder, Andy discovers maybe he doesn't know his son as well as he'd thought. After being removed from the case, Andy sets out to prove his son innocent. Having spent years in the DA's office, he knows all too well the 'tricks of the trade', that guilty/innocent doesn't matter as much as the conviction rate. Does he have to prove this to his wife Laurie too?

    Defending Jacob will keep you reading, turning page after page as evidence is gathered. You'll feel the ostracism from the community. And you'll probably be able to understand.

    53 out of 70 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2012

    Highly Recommended for Groups!

    Captivating from the very beginning! Great read for book groups, plenty of discussion possible!

    40 out of 55 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 20, 2012

    ZZZZZ Real easy to put down. Extremely slow paced and repetit

    ZZZZZ Real easy to put down. Extremely slow paced and repetitive. Skip 10 pages and miss nothing. More than half way through and I am done with this stinker.

    37 out of 96 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2012

    Sware words

    It has every sware word that i know of.

    34 out of 165 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 9, 2012

    Good Book!

    A good story line and well written. For me it was an enjoyable book and I would recommend it.

    34 out of 47 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 5, 2012

    Rivals To Kill a Mockingbird

    While no book could ever rival the famous legal classic (and deservedly so), William Landay has managed to weave the righteousness, morality, and character of Atticus Finch with the foibles of a powerful and sometimes weak man. Andrew Barber's commitment to his job as prosecutor and father are diametrically opposed in this page turner. The character development, normally a tedious process of childhood traumas and shadowy, evil characters of a long ago past, is set as a vague background, alluding to what Andy strives to overcome an eventually must face. Told through the viewpoint of only Andy, he splinters in polar directions, as a prosecutor, a father, husband, and community member. The story is always the main character of the book. It will keep you guessing until the very last page, a shocker and well worth the wait.

    33 out of 42 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2012


    Definitely worth reading - keeps you guessing.

    29 out of 44 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 8, 2012

    Fabulous read with an amazing ending

    this book was one of the very best novels I have read in a long long time. The book is a legal drama but it is much more than that. It is a story of what it means to be a parent.. what you will or will not accept from your own child. The ending was Totally Awesome.. I did not expect it.. Alfred Hitchcock could not have written it better!!!

    24 out of 34 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 20, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Stomach-clenching, this book puts you right in there feeling the

    Stomach-clenching, this book puts you right in there feeling the pain and angst of a parent, loving your child more than anything and faced with horrible decisions, facts coming at you from every direction that break your heart. This is a legal thriller, shocking and emotionally draining, about a murder trial with heartbreaking details that lead to so many twists in the storyline. What would we do if our son was implicated as the prime suspect of a murder case? The writing is superb! The conversations are so real, so filled with love, compassion but also doubt, and misery. This will leave you emotionally drained. It couldn’t have been written better!

    21 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2012

    Pretty Good

    It did not end the way I expected, so that was good, but it does seem a little drawn out a few times. Overall a good read & I would recommend it.

    20 out of 32 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2012

    Very frustrating read!

    For me, this book moved slow at the beginning. Once you get into it, it seems pretty good. The ending was very frustrating. It left way to much for the readers imagination, as to what really happened. Leaving some things for the readers imagination is a good thing, but, to me, there was way too much missing for me to want to recommend this book to anyone. D.P.

    19 out of 29 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2012

    Possible Spoiler Reference

    George and/or Cindy Anthony could possibly relate to the Barbers. This was a good read. Andy Barber was every bit as consistant as Cindy. Laurie, like George, had a voice that just could not be heard. Parental love is so powerful! This is what made the story feel real and made it a worthwhile read. I felt the ending seemed very contrived. You, as a reader, may find it quite satisfying. It is worth taking the time to read and find out for yourself. Please do not let my Casey Anthony reference turn you away from choosing to purchase. Jacob is NO Casey! You' ll have to figure out Jake for yourself by reading. My reference to the Anthonys is only to point out that the story is one that will definately keep your attention. Respectfully, since the tradgic loss in the Anthonys story is so sadly, not fictional, I have to add that I truly wish that George and Cindy find as much peace, healing, recovery, and wellness as can be possible in their lives. I'm glad the Barbers and the Rifkins are indeed fictional....and that the author had the decency to not create a Nancy Grace-esque charactor.

    16 out of 32 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2012

    Move over John Grisham, there's a new writer in town!

    Although I know that William Landay is anything but a "new" writer, he is new to me, and he is WONDERFULLY TALENTED. I was drawn in by the first page. Mr. Landay weaves his story so tightly that before you know it you are captive in his web. More later when I'm done! I am SO glad that I won this book, I can't even tell you how exciting it is to add a "new" author to my shelves - Harlan Coben is one of my favorites, and Landay writes as well as "seasoned" Coben (let's face it, Coben has GROWN to be a "master" writer, he wasn't one with his first books, he was only good). Anyway, more later![author:William Landay|218843]

    I cannot praise this book enough, it's everything, intriguing, thought-provoking, and plausible. I'm so thrilled that I've recently seen this book highlighted on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other sites. He's climbing the charts like a fast train, and I recommend you take a ride. I was so impressed that I got copies for everyone in my sister's book club. All I ask is that Landay keep writing; I promise, I'll keep buying!

    16 out of 21 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 16, 2012

    Several twists...

    keep you guessing. The ending was a surprise, too. Being familiar with the functions and operations of a DA's office, I found this story very captivating. I think lawyers - prosecutors and defense lawyers - would enjoy this read as well as those of us who just enjoy a good suspense novel. Good job, William Landay.

    16 out of 20 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2012

    Great Read

    I am only about half way through this book and can hardly put it down, definitely recommend this book. A+++++

    16 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2012


    I did not really enjoy this book, but it does make a point of how parents are usually the last to "really" know their children.

    14 out of 28 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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