Saturday, January 28, 2012
Book Review... Defending Jacob (#2 in Fiction on my 2011 reading list)
Defending Jacob -- an absorbing thriller!
Note: This review is written to try and ensure that I leave no spoilers. This book's appeal lies in what the reader thinks will be the climax, only to be jolted by unexpected events beyond the courtroom drama. I'm lucky to be a part of the Amazon Vine program, and received this book 5 weeks before publication on 1/31/2012.
I'd not read the two "crime novels" that William Landay has previously written (both received awards), but I'm drawn to the genre and most certainly will read them now. "Defending Jacob" draws you in and refuses to allow you to let go before you finish it. Would that I'd gotten it on Kindle so that I could have traveled easily with it and grabbed spare moments while waiting for the valet, in line at the coffee shop, etc.
Landay sets his novel in familiar territory, as he has worked in courtrooms in the Boston area. In a more or less typical suburb, Newton, the town is shocked by a tragedy of a 14 year old boy, Ben Rifkin, murdered before school starts in a local park that is the venue of joggers and kids walking to school. First Assistant DA Andy Barber takes the case for himself when the call comes in and goes directly to the crime scene.But the book does not begin there. Instead, in the beginning, and throughout the novel, Landay starts the book with Barber (the "Witness") testifying before a grand jury to his nemesis, ADA Neal Logiudice. Throughtout the novel, as the grand jury testimony is layered into the story of Ben Rifkin's murder (standing out easily, as the author used significantly different form and type to separate it from the ongoing crime tale) the reader wonders whether the confrontation between Barber and Logiudice is real or imagined, and, if so, in what context. To say that the reader cannot completely evaluate the grand jury testimony until the novel is finished, the story is told, and the reader is left to imagine, is to underplay the importance of the manner in which Landay conceived and sold this brilliant novel.
During the investigation and trial of the suspected murderer of Ben Rifkin, Andy's own son, 14 year old Jacob Barber is the prime suspect. The novel talks about Andy's removal from the case, the isolation of his family, the trial, and the aftermath. Much of the last few chapters roll over the reader like waves. But the genius of the nuanced, intricately written account is not about the trial scenes, but rather more about what happens to a family, to parental love and knowing, to the relationship between two parents who have raised a young man that they thought was one type of kid, and is shockingly revealed to potentially be someone they never really understood or knew.
You don't just read "Defending Jacob"... you contemplate it. You compare the book's twists and turns, the actions of Andy Barber and his wife Laurie, to your own appraisal of families and familial love of parents for their children. You confront the questions of the actions of a community, the isolation of adolescents, the impact of the internet and social media and the potential for inherited behavior all at once.And you come away realizing that the characters you have watched throughout the story, though deeply flawed, may not be much different in their reactions to a tragedy than your own family would be.
Stunning in its plotting, with a couple of over the top twists, "Defending Jacob" was the best fiction novel I read in 2011.
My hopes are that the reading public discovers it when it is published in late January and gives it the position on the best seller lists that it truly deserves.Highly recommended.
You can find my review on Amazon on 1/28/2012 and comment there if you wish: