There are not too many novels that I read and tell others that if they can guess the ending, I will give out $10. I have said this about William Landay‘s Defending Jacob to many, many people. And I haven’t had to pay out any monies yet.
Defending Jacob is quite possibly the best contemporary suspense/thriller I have read. I have to be careful what I say in this blog post, so that I don’t give away too much. I often find that to be the hallmark of a great book; the reviewer has to be prudent to make sure not too much is revealed in the summation.
Andy Barber is an Assistant District Attorney in Middlesex County, MA. He lives a quiet, middle class life with his wife Laurie and 14 year-old son Jacob. One of Jacob’s eighth grade classmates is stabbed to death in a local park. Andy is assigned the case, despite Jacob being a friend of the victim. Andy is taken off the case when Jake becomes a suspect, and the former DA turns defense attorney for his son. In preparation for trial, facts are revealed slowly – Jake owns a knife – Jake’s bloody fingerprint was found on the victim’s sweatshirt. Jake was a toddler who was violent. He was known as a bit of a bully. But did he commit murder? Is he a normal adolescent who happened upon his murdered classmate’s body and was too scared to call for help?
To complicate matters, Andy’s father and grandfather were both violent felons. Andy never shared that little tidbit with his wife, who is shocked that such a secret could have been kept from her. He question then arises: could Jacob be the carrier of the so-called “murder gene?” Will the prosecution use that as a motive?
I cannot say any more about the plot for fear of giving it all way. I will say that three quarters of the way through the story you are pretty sure you know how it will end. Ha! And then, there is the best plot twist I have encountered in years. I loved this novel because it confronts the question: if your child possibly did something heinous, how far would you go to help him? How far does parental love extend? Is propensity for violence an inherited trait, like eye color? What if your child is innocent but you have doubts.
Read it and let me know if I owe you $10.