DEFENDING JACOB

Written by William Landay

Review written by Ali Karim

Ali Karim is a Board Member of Bouchercon [The World Crime & Mystery Convention] and co-chaired programming for Bouchercon Raleigh, North Carolina in 2015. He is Assistant Editor of Shots eZine, British correspondent for The Rap Sheet and writes and reviews for many US magazines & Ezines.


DEFENDING JACOB
Orion Books
RRP: £12.99
Released: 15th March 2012
Hbk

The third novel by US Lawyer Bill Landay is a remarkable and emotional journey that puts this work right up at the apex of legal thrillers, rubbing shoulders with names such as Turrow, Grissom and Michael Connelly, though it will reside in the reader’s mind like a broken dream with its startling dénouement. The plot though appears a cliché, but is far from that due to the insights that Landay brings to play into the white picket normalcy that is middle-class, surburban America .

When teenager Ben Rifkin is found dead, from a brutal stabbing in a wood close to his local New England school, all eyes turn to that of Jacob Barber his fourteen year old classmate, and a boy harshly bullied by Rifkin. The problem is that Jacob’s father Andy Barber is the Assistant District Attorney for the county, so before long Andy is taken off the case as the investigation gathers momentum. The stresses to the Barber family start to from cracks in their ‘happy family’ façade as Andy tries to protect his son from the rigors of a murder case, something that his wife Laurie has trouble reconciling.

The reader also has to face up to the fact the narrative progresses in first person from Andy Barber’s viewpoint, but how reliable is the Assistant D.A. in his retelling of the events that this case has dredged up? The tension is racketed up a few notches when we learn that Jacob’s grandfather [Andy’s father] also had the shadow of murder over him, so there could be some genetic linkages in the Barber family, or not?

Either way, the Barber family becomes ostracized in this tightly-knit suburb of Boston from their neighbors as the trial looms in the collective consciousness, making the later stages of the novel fraught with anxiety, until the shattering dénouement, a climax that is as startling as is the journey to reach the shore of this tale.

In parts you feel the hidden depths of the narrator Andy Barber leading you along the path, though the sense of anxiety and unease is such that the reader feels that something darker is lurking in this suburban community, something that is far from the white that stains the picket-fences that zone the families from their secrets.

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