Defending Jacob

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Overview

Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber is blindsided when his teenage son, Jacob, is charged with murder. Jacob insists he is innocent, and Andy believes him. But as the trial intensifies, damning facts and shocking revelations surface.

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Overview

Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber is blindsided when his teenage son, Jacob, is charged with murder. Jacob insists he is innocent, and Andy believes him. But as the trial intensifies, damning facts and shocking revelations surface.

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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. A Barnes & Noble Recommends choice; now in trade paperback and NOOK Book.

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
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
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 novel...one 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.
Bookreporter.com
Defending Jacob hits uncomfortably but unerringly close to home, and is as compelling a work as you are likely to pick up this year.
Bookpage
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)
Booklist
[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)
From the Publisher
Praise for Defending Jacob
 
“William Landay makes bold use of his genuine storytelling gift, his amazing ability to craft believable dialogue, and, above all, his extraordinary understanding of what it means to be a husband and father to present us with an unforgettable tale of an ordinary marriage and family in crisis. On the surface this novel reads like a first-rate thriller, but at its heart it’s a love story.  It’s the story of a man who adores his wife and child, but more than that, it’s a novel that describes the fine edge between love and madness, and the lies we sometimes tell ourselves. Landay has proven himself to be an extraordinary writer, and Defending Jacob is an amazing novel. Do yourself a favor and read it. It’s that good.”—Nicholas Sparks
 
Defending Jacob is smart, sophisticated, and suspenseful—capturing both the complexity and stunning fragility of family life.”—Lee Child
 
“Powerful . . . leaves you gasping breathlessly at each shocking revelation.”—Lisa Gardner
 
“A page-turning, stomach-clenching exploration of family.”—Chevy Stevens
 
“A stunning novel that will be compared to classic courtroom thrillers like Presumed Innocent and Anatomy of a Murder.”—Phillip Margolin
 
“So well-written, every character so movingly and convincingly drawn, the plot so utterly enthralling . . . Defending Jacob is absolutely stellar, first-rate fiction—human, sensitive, and gripping in the extreme.”—Lisa Unger

“More than a terrific legal thrill ride, Defending Jacob is an unflinching appraisal of the darkest, most poignant consequences of the love that binds, and blinds, families. It’s one of those rare books that call for contemplation and insight along with every breathtaking surprise.”—Stephen White
 
“Landay spins a tale of such complexity and emotion that you don’t even realize you’re spiraling deep into his world until he spits you out at his shocking, shattering conclusion.”—Carla Buckley
 
“Sensational . . . one of the best books of the year.”—John Lutz
 
“A novel like this comes along maybe once a decade . . . a tour de force, a full-blooded legal thriller about a murder trial and the way it shatters a family. With its relentless suspense, its mesmerizing prose, and a shocking twist at the end, it’s every bit as good as Scott Turow’s great Presumed Innocent. But it’s also something more: an indelible domestic drama that calls to mind Ordinary People and We Need to Talk About Kevin. A spellbinding and unforgettable literary crime novel.”—Joseph Finder
 
 “Powerful, disturbing, complex, and gripping, Defending Jacob is impossible to put down. William Landay is a stunning talent.”—Carla Neggers
 
“Riveting, suspenseful, and emotionally searing.”—Linwood Barclay
 
“Brilliantly conceived . . . combines a harrowing family drama with riveting courtroom scenes that make readers feel they are actually witnessing the trial unfold.”—Stephen Frey

“A carefully plotted and precisely written thriller about a family put to the ultimate test . . . Defending Jacob is bound to enthrall.”—Thomas H. Cook

“Harrowing . . . 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.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“[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.”  —Booklist (starred review)

“Gripping, emotional murder saga….The shocking ending will have readers pulling up their bedcovers to ward off the haunting chill.”  —People Magazine (three of four stars)
 
“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.”  —Associated Press
 
“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.”  —Portland Oregonian
 
“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.”  —Entertainment Weekly
 
“[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.”  —Booklist (starred review)

“Not since the novels of Scott Turow has a crime thriller—and 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 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

“Landay turns out to be creating a clever blend of legal thriller and issue-oriented family implosion…nothing is predictable.  All bets are off.”  —Janet Maslin, The New York Times

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….Landay has written a stunning novel and it is one 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.”  —Huffington Post

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

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.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780440246138
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/26/2013
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 496
  • Sales rank: 111,366
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 4.20 (h) x 1.30 (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 Law School, 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?"  
"Yes."  
"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."  
"Yes."  
"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."  
"Why?"  
"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?"  
"No."  
"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?"  
"Yes."  
"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

A Conversation with William Landay

Random House Readers Circle: What was the  seed of this novel? What drove you to write it? When did you first realize that this was the story you wanted to tell?

William Landay:
There was no single “seed,” honestly. I have never been the visionary sort of writer who  conceives an entire  novel  in a lightning flash of inspiration. I am more  of a  plodder,  an  experimenter. I develop my ideas slowly, by trial and error, teasing them out in draft after draft. It is a slow, tentative process, and it is filled with worry because  I am never quite  sure what   I’m after.  That is how Defending Jacob was born.

To understand where the book came from, it helps to understand where I was at the time.  I had written two novels that were tradi- tional crime stories in the sense that they were set in the street-corner world of cops and hoods. I had been an assistant DA for most of the 1990s, and crime fascinated me. I felt that,  as a writer, I had found my subject. But by the time I began to imagine Defending Jacob, I was thinking of crime in a different   way—and   thinking of crime novels in a different  way  too. By then, I had left the DA’s office to become  a full-time writer, and I had started  my own family. Crime had been an everyday  reality when I was  a courtroom prosecutor; now it was just a memory,  an abstract idea, the stuff I made stories out of. As I thought  about crime  now, from the perspective  of a writer and a young  father, it seemed to me that the questions  that haunt us as parents were not so different from the questions  that animate criminal law: Why do people do what they do? How do we encourage good behavior  and punish bad? How do we understand one another?  How, for example,  do we respond  to the fact  that good  people  do bad  things, or that good  people  are  victimized? Above all, what does crime tell us about ourselves?  That last question, of course, is the reason crime has always fascinated storytellers and audiences: we read (and watch) crime stories not for what they tell us about criminals, but for what they tell us about ourselves. The criminal we read about is us—at  least, he is a little, wicked part of us, all of us.

RHRC: How do you  feel about the concept of the “murder  gene”?

WL:
I think it is fashionable now to use DNA as an explanation  for all sorts of behaviors. Genomics is a new  and fast-developing—and seductive—science,  and we tend to think of it in an overly determinative way, as if it explains  everything about us. But we humans are unfathomably complex. None of us is simply our DNA. So I think we have to be careful  when  we encounter  a new idea and a new science like behavioral genetics. We have to be careful  about terms  like “murder gene” and “warrior  gene,”  lest we think of these things, inaccurately,  as simple triggers. The truth is, we are  still  talking about a gene-environment interaction,  still talking  about nature versus nurture,  as we always have. The difference is that now we have a window  into the “nature” side  of the equation.
In some ways, the effect of our physical construction—the chemicals and electrical impulses, the bones and meat we are made of—on our behavior  and character is  a revolutionary idea, a completely new way to think about ourselves.  But in other ways, it is merely  a very old idea that has simply been detailed  a bit by science. We have always understood that we all have certain innate, “hardwired” tendencies and temperaments;  now we understand  the precise mecha- nisms of that physical hard wiring a  little better.  The interesting question for readers  and novelists is what this new  science means.

How should we think about ourselves in light of these new discoveries? What should  society do with the knowledge that some of our neighbors  bear genes predisposing  them to violence or disease or a thousand other human traits? These are rich topics for novelists.

RHRC: Which character in Defending Jacob do you identify with most strongly? Who is your least favorite character?

WL:  The truth is that all the main characters are fragments of myself. We are all many things in the course of our lives, and at various times I have been sullen  and withdrawn like Jacob, warm  and sensi- tive like Laurie, steely and loyal like Andy. When you write a novel, at least a novel as deeply felt as Defending Jacob was to me, you find yourself excavating all these various  aspects of your own personality. On the other  hand, I do not believe the simplistic assumption that all characters in all novels are reflections  of the novelist.  I have created many  characters  that have  felt external  to me—real and credible characters, I hope, but not reflections of me at all, not family. The Barbers  were the first  kind, the sort of characters that are slivers of me. So I find it hard to see them  with any objectivity  or distance, let alone to choose a favorite.  Maybe I will, in time.

With that said, I confess I have a soft spot for Andy, for his stead- fast devotion  to his child even  in the darkest times. Andy is  not perfect, of course. But to me,  even his flaws do him credit. Who would not want  a father  so unshakable, who would stand by you, right or wrong, right to the end?

RHRC: Do you see any of yourself in Andy?

WL:  A little bit, yes. I am stubborn  and doggedly loyal, as Andy is. And my emotions  can cloud my perceptions, though I think everyone is vulnerable to that.
But I can’t quite see myself  in Andy  because I see so many others in him too. When I was a young  lawyer,  there were several older, respected prosecutors   like Andy Barber who were role models for the younger lawyers  coming up. At least they ought to have been. Andy is an amalgam of those older lawyers  whom I admired as a young man. He is the prosecutor  I might  have become if I’d stuck with it for an entire career. I like to think so, at least.

RHRC: What has been the most  surprising aspect of the huge reader response to Defending Jacob?

WL:  Well, to borrow your word,  the sheer hugeness of it. I am still stunned. No writer would  dare imagine that sort of commercial success. No sane writer, anyway. The odds are so long. So many things have to go right, including  a good deal of luck. It is humbling.

I have also  been amazed at the intensity of readers’ reactions. Even now, more  than  a year  after the book was published, I get  email every day from readers who tell me how deeply moved they were by Defending Jacob. Most write to tell me how much they enjoyed the book. A few write because they  are outraged  at Laurie’s or Andy’s behavior—which is to say, they are outraged at me for making them misbehave this way. But for good and bad, the emails  keep pouring in, often beginning with “I have never  written to an author  before, but I just had to tell you . . .”

It has  been a wonderful,  bewildering experience to see my book hit a nerve that way. Writing is a lonely  business.  A writer’s days are filled with silence and solitude   (if he’s  doing it  right). Inside that bubble, while writing, it is easy to believe that the book is a purely private  experience, written only for the writer himself. It  sounds silly,  but you can forget  that other  people will  actually  read your story, let alone that  they might  be deeply touched by it. Books are essentially   a private  medium,  for both the artist and  audience— imagined  by a writer in a lonely  room,  then reimagined by a reader in the quiet of her own thoughts. The public life of books—the brief moment when they show up in book reviews (for those lucky enough to be reviewed), bookstores   (increasingly   rare), or advertisements (rarer still)—has more to do with bookselling  than reading. A book’s essential purpose is to be opened  by a single  reader and read in silence, to slip into her thoughts quietly. So it has been shocking— I don’t  know what  else to call it—to see my book  become such  a public hit. I am very, very grateful for it, for all the readers who have enjoyed the book and written  to let me know. I would like to thank every last one of them, if I could.

RHRC: What are the one or two things readers  have said to you about Defending Jacob that you treasure most?

WL:  The other day, I heard from a woman  whose  teenage son was convicted of murder. The boy served eight and a half years in prison, then took his own life. This  grieving mother wrote to tell me that Defending Jacob had actually  helped her to process what  she had been through,  that the book captured her own feelings and experiences accurately  (“spot-on” was  the phrase  she used),  and that  she wanted to thank  me for writing it. As a parent, it is staggering to imagine that sort of pain. As a novelist,  it is humbling even to imagine that your book might  help someone that way.

Of course, that sort of dramatic email is rare. More often, I hear from readers with the ordinary,  everyday worries of parents: children who communicate too little, stare into their smartphones too much, and wander into all sorts of trouble. Defending Jacob seems to speak to them too.  Jacob Barber  is not so different from a lot of teenagers, really. And Laurie and Andy’s worry about  Jacob and even their fear of him are emotions every parent will recognize, if only in a small way.

RHRC: Both Andy and Laurie Barber  are strong presences in this novel. What do you find are the difficulties  in tackling  male and female characters? Is one more difficult than the other?

WL: The expected answer, I suppose, is that male authors  must find women more difficult to write, and female authors  must struggle to create men.  It is a logical assumption:  the closer one’s own experience is to any subject, the less guesswork must be required. But I am not sure it actually works that way. Personally—and  I don’t pretend to speak for other writers—I  don’t  find my female characters  any more mysterious or elusive than my male characters, at least not as a  rule. There are  difficult people to create, certainly,   but I don’t think the difficulty correlates to gender.

That must sound odd from a writer who has just written  a novel in the voice of a man  very like himself. And it is true that I have written more  male  characters  than female.  But that has mostly been  a  result of the topics I have chosen.  I have  written mostly about the worlds of cops and criminals, and these are dominated by men, still.  But I would love to center a novel  on a woman—a novel not just with a female protagonist,  but actually told from a woman’s point of view, with her sensibility and her voice. Maybe that is foolish, maybe I will  find it more difficult than I expected to write credibly from a woman’s perspective at novel length. But I think one of the worst bits of advice writers hear is “write what you know.”  If  writers  did not feel free to break  that rule and imagine worlds beyond their personal  experience, we would not have so many of our favorite stories and characters,  from Harry Potter to Humbert Humbert. Anyway, if I wanted to do things the easy way,  I probably would not have  become  a writer in the first place.

RHRC: One of the powerful  emotional arcs in this book is the evolution of Laurie and  Andy’s marriage/relationship.  Was this very complicated and intense relationship difficult to write?

WL:  It was difficult in the sense that it was painful to watch these characters suffer so. I like Andy and Laurie. They are my friends,  or would  be but for the fact they are fictional. I like them as a couple too, how they  complement  each other,  how they fit  together.  And the fact  that their lives—Andy’s  work, the town they live in, the stage of life they are in—are  so similar to mine  made their descent especially uncomfortable to watch. This  story hits literally close to home.

But the Barbers’ unraveling was not difficult to create in the sense that it was complex or technically  challenging. Writing  is an em- pathic,  instinctive thing, at  least when  you are  in the heat  of it, building your story sentence by sentence. You don’t stop to calculate which emotion logically fits in a given situation;  you just feel it, you react in real time, and you hope your instincts  are right. (And if you  get it wrong,  the fix is easy enough: throw it away and write it again. And again, and again.) So, was it hard to trace the emotional  arc of Andy and Laurie’s relationship? Yes, but hard like heartbreak, not hard like math.

RHRC: How do you want your readers to feel about Laurie?

WL:  I would  never prescribe how readers ought to feel about any- thing. That’s  their business. But I do think Laurie’s  warmth, her emotional honesty, is something Andy treasures  and sorely misses when  the couple is forced apart by Jacob’s  case. No doubt it was part of what attracted him to her in the first place. Andy’s personality is built on a secret; Laurie seems to have none. At least, she seems to believe  that keeping  secrets  like Andy’s  is  unhealthy.  Whether Andy  really  had a choice about divulging his past, whether it is Andy’s secrecy that  comes back to haunt the family, whether it would have made a difference  if Laurie’s honesty had ruled the household— all that I leave to the reader.

RHRC: If you had investigated  the case, would  you have focused on Jacob, or would  you have gone after Patz?

WL: I would  certainly  have looked into Patz. There is enough smoke there that any good investigator   would have to check it out. One thing that Andy comments  on, which was always my experience too, is that in the early  stages of an investigation  it is very hard to differentiate signal from noise—to tell which  odd-seeming facts are significant evidence and which  are just odd, irrelevant distractions. Once the investigation  fixes on Jacob, it becomes very  hard  for the detectives to see Patz  as anything but a distraction.  But that has as much to do with their own perceptional bias, their “target focus,” as it has to do with the real weight of the evidence. When  the bal- ance tips—when  the weight of evidence truly points to Jacob, if it ever does—that  is up to the reader.

RHRC: If you weren’t a writer, what profession would you choose? Would you practice law again?

WL:
  Oh, I could  go on and on. There are so many things I would truly love to do. I doubt I would  go back to practicing law. I am too conflictaverse   and  at  this  point I am  too interested  in  creating things. I would love to do something in the visual arts, in design, photography,  even filmmaking. One of the frustrations of novel-writing is that it is entirely a verbal medium.  As grand and elastic a form as the novel is, it really offers nothing to the visual imagination, to the eye. And nothing  tangible, as the advent of eBooks makes painfully  clear. Yes, a printed  book is a tangible object,  but it is not entirely the author’s own. It  is co-produced  by the publisher.  Only the words are mine.  I love technology too; maybe I would throw myself into the Next Big Thing on the internet.  I would love to start a business.  Maybe get into the shoe business,  which  is what my family has done for several generations  and which  I always  imagined I would go into when I was  a kid.

Or teach. I have always  wanted to teach English in a middle school somewhere, though I suspect I’d be  a lousy teacher (too impatient). The truth is I would need  several lifetimes  to get through all the careers I dream about, but I will never try any of them  because I al- ready have the one job that trumps  them all: writer. What  a remarkable, privileged thing to be. If I never dreamed of becoming  a writer as a kid, it is only because it would  have seemed so preposterous— like saying you were going to become an astronaut or a major-league ballplayer. There were no artists or writers in my world back then. Even now, I feel a little fraudulent  using that word to describe myself; I think of myself as just a guy  who has written a few books,  not a writer. So I consider myself damn lucky to have this job, and I intend to keep it. It is only a handful  of writers who  get to earn their living this way. Not a day goes by that I don’t remember that.

RHRC: Does plot come first for you, or character?

WL: They come at the same time.  I’m not sure I could even separate the two as neatly as the question  implies. Plot is just character in action. Character, in the end, is what you actually do. In my books I design both plot and character to achieve whatever  effect I’m after, to suit whatever subject I’m trying to discuss. One of the pitfalls of dividing our books into genre novels  versus  “literary” novels  is that we have come to expect too little character out of the first and too little plot out of the second, leaving both poorer. A good novel needs both, of course,  and the two should be  wrapped   as tight as the strands in a rope.

RHRC: If  you had  to write Defending  Jacob  again,  would you change any of the major plot points?


WL: 
I never, ever think that way. For me, when a book  is done, it’s done,  and I move on. I have heard  stories about famous  authors who would take their own published books down off the shelf and obsessively rewrite them over and over. I have never felt that urge. In my experience, as soon as I finish a manuscript,  a happy amnesia settles over me.  I can barely  recall  the details of the book, never mind  feel tempted to rewrite it.  The question of “wrong” creative  choices,  it seems to me, misperceives how stories are made. As a reader, the incidents in a book  feel inevitable. There is a chain  of events: A leads to B leads to C. The reader reacts to that chain in a binary  way: either  she approves or not. But to the writer, who  faces a blank  page (or computer screen) every day, every plot decision involves infinite possibilities. A might lead  to B, but it also might lead  to a thousand   other things. The writer chooses  because he has  to choose. The story must proceed. But he  is  never under  the illusion  that there  is  a  correct   or best choice. Every decision is contingent. Every choice involves compro- mises, tradeoffs, flaws. So he makes his bargain and he moves on.

In the  case of Defending Jacob, the ending has received  a lot of attention, understandably. But the novel  might  have ended a differ- ent way—or  ten different ways. In fact, the published novel does not end the way my original manuscript did. Is the final version better, is it the “right” ending?  There is no way to answer that question. My advice to writers: don’t look back. As Satchel Paige said, “Something may be gaining  on you.”

RHRC: Which  authors  do you admire and why?

WL:  This  is a common  question  and one I hate because my reading is so random. I tend to read whatever  catches my interest at the moment, from the current fiction lists or the classics. I have loved books by a  crazily varied list  of authors:  Austen and Dickens,  Fitzgerald and Hemingway, Larry McMurtry and E. L. Doctorow (particularly Billy  Bathgate), Bellow and  Roth and  Updike, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes, Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon. On and on.
I do find it difficult to read when I’m writing, however. The part of a reader’s imagination that a good novel  occupies is the very same space that  a novelist uses to dream up his own original stories. So I often fall back on nonfiction when I am writing, lest I start stealing from someone else or, worse,  being led astray by my betters, writing their stories rather than my own.

RHRC: If you had to cite just one novel aspiring  writers should read before starting  to write their own work, what would it be?

WL:  I think the answer would  be different  for everyone. The books that inspired  me to write likely would not have the same effect on others. That is the nature of reading. Those magical, electric reading experiences—the  unforgettable  books that are  seared  into us and mark us for life—depend on so many things  besides the book itself. It happens when  the right reader opens the right book  at just the right moment in her life. It is like dating. All of us who are devoted readers have had the experience of meeting the same book twice and feeling  completely different  about it.  At eighteen,  I hated  Moby Dick;  at thirty, I was blown away by it. So it goes.

I am also  a very  slow reader, so I haven’t racked up the mile-long reading lists that other writers have. Worse, I tend to reread my fa- vorites, especially as I get older. I find I enjoy  the company of old friends like The  Great Gatsby more than the sexy new titles at the front of the bookstore.  And of course I read with a  professional’s eye now.  I try to take apart every book to see how  it works, how it was built, to see what  I can take from it.

So I would not presume to tell any aspiring writer what she ought to read. Personally,  I have loved Fitzgerald  and Hemingway,  those polestars of the tender and tough schools  of romantic writing. Roth and Bellow too. I always  have Ian McEwan nearby; when I am stuck in my own writing, I often read McEwan  just to hear the sound  of good English prose and get myself  moving  again. Works every time. I have enjoyed  the richer sort of genre stuff like Scott Turow  and John le Carré (especially A Perfect Spy), and  I’ve enjoyed Stephen King and Elmore Leonard too. I have enjoyed  a lot of “good bad books,” as George Orwell called them, pop novels like The  Godfather.  And I have  made  sure to work in a  few classics,  especially Dickens. I read screenplays,  as well, to learn about  dialogue  and how to structure  a plot. So that is my haphazard list. At least, it is the bits that come immediately to mind.  The main thing for any aspiring  author is: read. Just read. Read anything  at all that excites you. Don’t  worry about how sophisticated or impressive your list sounds. Don’t worry what people will think. If you like junk, read junk. Find a book  that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, then pull that book  apart scene by scene and figure out how the author did it. Then go do it your- self.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 2534 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!!

    163 out of 217 people found this review helpful.

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  • 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!

    103 out of 119 people found this review helpful.

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  • 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.

    77 out of 92 people found this review helpful.

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  • 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.

    68 out of 83 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.

    51 out of 68 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 3, 2012

    Highly Recommended for Groups!

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

    38 out of 52 people found this review helpful.

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  • 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.

    36 out of 91 people found this review helpful.

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  • 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.

    32 out of 41 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.

    31 out of 43 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2012

    Sware words

    It has every sware word that i know of.

    30 out of 154 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2012

    Thriller

    Definitely worth reading - keeps you guessing.

    26 out of 41 people found this review helpful.

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  • 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.

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  • 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 28 people found this review helpful.

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  • 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.

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  • 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.

    18 out of 28 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.

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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.

    15 out of 31 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!

    15 out of 20 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.

    15 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2012

    dissapointment

    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.

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