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Defending Jacob by William Landay


I heard about this book on one of my favorite book podcasts: Books on the Nightstand. I was surprised to find a copy available in the library for me to take out. Pleasantly so. This novel looked and sounded intriguing because it is about Andy Barber - a high powered assistant district attorney in a county that borders the city of Boston. He is so high powered, that he is the first assistant and is often the go guy for the homicides and other serious offenses that crop up in his jurisdiction. Anything involving lawyers and criminal law is intriguing. Not only is he well respected at his job, but he is loved and respected in his family and in his neighborhood as well. He seems to have the most perfect life that anyone can imagine having. His perfect suburban life is shattered by an odd homicide in his neigh brood - a 14 year old boy is killed as he was walking to school and Andy's son Jacob, has been arrested and charged in the death.

The book starts out with what is obviously the transcript of grand jury testimony where Andy is being interrogated by a former colleague and menthe. I didn't think that it would be promising - the predictable old legal thriller coming up. But I was pleasantly surprised because this didn't turn out to be the run of the mill legal thriller that I had just about convinced myself that I had picked up. The book ended up containing an interesting mix of legal/criminal justice issues that many contemporary lawyers and those involved with the criminal justice system deal with and familial issues - how is this going to impact the marriage, are our children really who we think we are, etc? It also interestingly, takes up issues of nature v. Nurture - Andy apparently comes from a long line of men that have brutally murdered people, with Andy being the first to break the chain. Was this something that was ingrained in Jacob's being, like eye color?

One line in particular struck me: “Our blind trust in the system is the product of ignorance and magical thinking,” Andy says about the law, “and there was no way in hell I was going to trust my son’s fate to it.” I found that this statement rang hauntingly true. In this country we must have faith in the system because we have to believe that it works.If it doesn't, what does that mean? But sometimes the system doesn't work because it's made up of human components: a prosecutor that loses their vision of justice, a judge that isn't neutral, whatever. And what would a parent do if their child is in this situation, particularly when that parent has spent their life prosecuting the people that have committed these acts?

All in all, a good book and a good read.

  • Books Read in 100 Book Fiction Challenge:4
  • Books Read in 100 Books in 2013:6

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