Review: Defending Jacob, To Believe Or Not To Believe

How far would you go for your child? 

That is the central theme and a repeated line in the wonderful Defending Jacob by William Landay. Defending Jacob is a courtroom/family drama. A significant portion of the book deals with the drama of an investigation and trial. But the real heart of the story is watching a family deal with a crime, an arrest, a trial and the aftermath of that trial. Watching the main characters grapple with the guilt or innocence of their loved one makes this book both gripping and heart wrenching. And, all the while, you are grappling with Jacob's guilt or innocence.

The Story

The Barber family appears to be a perfectly normal, happy family. Andy and Laurie were college sweethearts and are as in love with each other as the day they met. Their 14-year-old son, Jacob, seems like a regular teenage boy, maybe a little more introverted than some, but still within the bounds of normalcy. Then Andy is called to a crime scene where the victim turns out to be a classmate of Jacob's. As the investigation proceeds, the Barbers' lives begin to go off the rails. First, Jacob is arrested for the heinous crime. As more evidence surfaces, Andy and Laurie have to examine who their son really is and everything they don't know about him. The trial begins, and more and more doubts about Jacob begin to surface. The book is brought to a startling conclusion with several twists along the way.

The story is told in a sort of past perspective, in narration from Andy, and in an interview style taken from Andy's grand jury testimony. It's a very unique and intriguing way to tell Jacob's story. Andy has a propensity to speak in hindsight in his narration, a habit that drives you to read faster to find out what he's alluding too. Some well used phrases from the book are "Looking back.." and "I should have realized then...".

This habit of Andy's drove me CRAZY! I NEEDED to know what he was talking about. It's clear from the beginning that this grand jury testimony takes place after the main events of the story. And, since we have a double-jeopardy clause in this country, I knew it couldn't be for the same murder. But, I didn't know what it was! It was driving me bananas. Being the spoiler whore that I am, it took all of my willpower to refrain from running to the Internet to look for the ending.

The Characters

Andy Barber
Our narrator, is a fifty-something-year-old Assistant District Attorney in suburban Boston. He leads a perfectly normal life, until Jacob's arrest. We don't get much in the way of physical description for Andy. It is implied that he is a pretty big guy, tall and muscular. Personally, I pictured him as a Chris Meloni type, but taller.

Andy's personality and character are what really shape him. Andy is, first and foremost, a lawyer. That shapes his views on life and most importantly this case. He makes some shrewd and also questionable decisions because of his knowledge of the law. He is also a very devoted father and husband. Laurie and Jacob are his world. And as his world slowly starts to fall apart over the course of the book, he tries desperately to keep everything and everyone together. He is the rock of the family. He makes several failed attempts to keep everything as normal as possible during the trial. But one of his flaws is his inability to confide in others. He wants everyone else to talk about what's going on, but when he is asked personal or probing questions, he doesn't want to answer them. Another character flaw is his exceedingly strong ability to live in the land of denial. After more and more uncertainty comes to light about Jacob, Andy steadfastly stands by his belief, to the detriment of them both, that Jacob is a normal, if somewhat moody, teenage boy.  If Andy could have looked beyond his own beliefs, maybe this story could have turned out differently.

Laurie Barber
Andy's wife, Laurie, is also a fifty-something. She is a former teacher turned housewife. Andy describes Laurie several times as just as beautiful as the day they met when they were 17. She's short and slim with thick and unruly hair. Early on in the book, at the victim's wake, we are told that Laurie is "mothering the mothers". That is the biggest clue to Laurie's personality. She's a mother through and through. She tries valiantly to keep strong for her family. She insists that they have dinner as a family every night. She actively participates in the meetings with their lawyer about Jacob's defense, even though she's out of her element. But, the doubts and questions about Jacob that she has pushed to the back of her mind begin to surface. And after Andy reveals a long-kept secret, she begins to fall apart. Andy does his best to keep her from withdrawing, but it is a losing battle. Watching Laurie's slow descent into depression and her withdrawal from her family is one of the hardest parts about this book.

Jacob Barber
Jacob is outwardly a typical fourteen-year-old boy. He's in that "baby colt" phase of growing up. He's thin and gangly, with long legs and arms that he hasn't quite gotten used to yet. There's a definite awkwardness to him. Like any teenager, he is also quite moody. He is a quiet and somewhat shy boy, who doesn't have a lot of friends. Since I could also be described that way, I didn't initially have any reservations about that aspect of his personality. As the book goes on and we learn more about Jacob, doubts start to creep in. I don't want to give anything away to all of you spoiler prudes out there, so I'll stop here. Suffice it to say, I was debating Jacob's guilt or innocence right up to the end.

The Supporting Players
There are a myriad of minor characters in this story, but four are a little more important that the rest (and don't give away any spoilers).

The most important is Jonathan Klein. Jonathan is Jacob's lawyer. He's a little bit of an aging hippie, but he is, in Andy's opinion, the best defense lawyer in the state. He is a kind and grandfatherly sort of man. He also knows how to work the jury without the typical defense lawyer sleaze.

The main investigator for the case is Paul Duffy, who also happens to be Andy's best friend. He's Andy's age with a wife and kids of his own. He's soft spoken and fine of feature. Not your typical cop, but he's good at his job with just the right amount of toughness and political finesse. He does his very best to do right by not only Andy, but the case as well. But Andy isn't sure their friendship will survive the case.

I suppose you could call Neal Logiudice the antagonist. He's also a former protege of Andy's and a fellow ADA. Despite Andy's careful teaching, Neal is extremely ambitious. He sees this case as his shot at glory and he hopes to ride it all the way to the District Attorney's office.

Derek Yoo is Jacob's best friend. He's also a star witness for the prosecution. He is a very confused fourteen-year-old boy. He doesn't want his best friend to get in trouble, but he also knows that Jacob has done and said some things that the police should know about.

The Ending
First of all, for all of you spoiler prudes, don't worry, I'm not going to give anything away. The best and craziest part of this book is the ending. And by ending, I mean the last 30-40 pages. And, having resisted the temptation to spoil myself, I stand firm in the belief that you should remain unspoiled too.

The beginning of the end is the conclusion of the trial, which had an unexpected ending, to say the least. This was seriously my reaction:

But, the end of the trial is only one chapter. There are still 30 pages to go after that.

To me, the remaining pages have a sense of foreboding to them. Because of the aforementioned grand jury proceedings, we know that something else happens. We just don't know what it is. So even as the Barber family members try to move on with their lives and begin to recover slightly, you are waiting for the other shoe to drop. When that proverbial shoe does drop, there is almost a sense of letdown, because, for a while, you can almost believe that the Barbers might just end up happy. But at the same time, you just have to shake your head because you knew it was coming even if you wished it weren't.

Then, in the last eight pages of the book, the reason for the grand jury proceedings is revealed. And as Andy recounts the events for the reader, there is only one way to describe it. 


You will just need to trust me and read it for yourself. If you like Law & Order, CSI, Bones, NCIS, or any other crime procedural, then I guarantee you'll enjoy this. It's quite a bit like reading an episode of a procedural instead of watching it. It is totally and completely worth it, if you like this genre. I've been recommending it to everyone! If you are unfamiliar with crime books or shows, the legalese might be a little overwhelming, but even a casual L&O fan can follow it. So, I hope you'll give this new favorite of mine a shot! Then, come back here and let me know what you thought about it. I'm DYING to discuss the ending with someone!

Official Wench Rating:

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  1. Amazing review Anne!
    And you are killing me with the intrigue! What happens in the end? Is Jacob or is he not guilty? *bites nails* I have to read this book, but I don't think I have the strength to not know the ending. It's already gnawing at me. I don't want to know how that will feel when I start reading!

    1. I knew that would be hard for you to read! I'm glad you liked it though! Thanks!

  2. Okay, you got me before you started the character list. And being the spoiler prude that I am, I stopped reading there. Adding to my ever-growing TBR list. Great review!

  3. So intriguing! looking for the book now,Thanks Anne,great review.

  4. Fantastic review Anne. I'm now intrigued.

  5. This is a great review, Anne! You are such a good influence on me. You make me want to read something besides paranormal, romance, and m/m. :-P

    1. Aw gee! Thanks Amanda! I do what I can!


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