Defending Jacob (2012)
Author: William Landay
Publisher: Orion Books
Available as: Paperback, hardback, Kindle edition, Audio book
With the overwhelming advent, popularity and addictive nature of audio-visual entertainment, on various online portals, we have gotten used to fast paced storylines and instant gratification of our senses. It seems challenging, now more than ever, to read a book, when the next web series is beckoning you. But once in a while you lay hands on a book with a plot as compelling as Defending Jacob, and it gives the mind a much-needed stimulus; a fresh perspective on old thoughts.
The novel Defending Jacob by William Landay, which masquerades as a crime thriller, can very easily slip into a myriad of genres. Teenage angst, family bonds, friendships, and morals are all tested for their resilience in this immersive story thus appealing to a wider audience.
Are we really creators of our destiny or merely marionettes at the mercy of our genes? The story challenges the very foundation of the belief‒ nurture is stronger than nature. Is it really?
It all begins in Newton, Massachusetts where Andy Barber, an Assistant District Attorney, is called upon to investigate the murder of a 14year old boy, Ben Rifkin, who is a classmate of his son Jacob. In a brutal twist of fate, Andy and his wife Laurie – both respected members of their community, are thrown in the deep end while trying to defend Jacob who stands accused of the heinous crime.
Whilst Andy throws himself with dogged determination in defending Jacob, we see Laurie, who despite being a devoted mother, has her reservations about Jacob’s innocence thanks to his history of dysfunctional behaviour. The author crafts Laurie’s character brilliantly, bringing to fore the conflicting emotions of love and anger, laced with guilt for entertaining a shred of doubt about Jacob’s innocence. He is her son after all – can a mother’s instinct go wrong? Is she a bad mother? Has she failed in her duty towards her son? Surely a mother knows best…
Andy has struggled all his life to leave a troubled past behind him‒ a past riddled with a family history of violence. He battles with a constant fear of having passed the ‘violent gene’ to his son. Landay throws a spanner in the works by cleverly weaving this new emerging science of genetics and neuro-criminology into the plot.
The emotional turmoil, the determination to fight for their son and the complexities of a situation which has spiralled beyond their control, may seem overwhelming to begin with but as the story unfolds and the facts are laid bare, we are hit in the face with more existential questions than we bargain for: Are we programmed to act or think in a certain way? Is it nature or nurture which drives us? How much of a role does gender play in our responses? How far would you go to save someone you love and at what cost? It certainly is a thought-provoking tale capable of sending a chill down the spine upon considering the ‘what if’ scenario.
Are we really creators of our destiny or merely marionettes at the mercy of our genes? The story challenges the very foundation of the belief‒ nurture is stronger than nature. Is it really? If it is, why is it that good, hardworking, conscientious parents find themselves in situations which challenge their core values when their children go astray, down a path which they know will lead to heartbreak and collapse of the family they have worked so hard to build?
As we weave our way through the nooks and crannies of the plot, Mr Landay leaves enough grey areas for the readers to come to their own conclusions. The ending is breathtakingly dramatic and leaves us spellbound at the surprisingly unpredictable turn of events.
To cut a long story short, Defending Jacob is a story of a loving family ripped apart, testing the boundaries of love and trust, and the cold, ominous question ‘Could our son be a killer?’ hanging over their necks like the sword of Damocles.
We all agree parenting is a full- time job without a fixed job description, no prior training or qualification is requisite for this highly skilled and demanding role. As if that wasn’t challenging enough, whilst some may thrive because of the lack of an instruction manual, many might find themselves completely out of depth and try to do the best they can, given the circumstances. There are no guarantees, you may be on a winner or may have to brace for a bumpy ride. Either ways, all parents want to do the best for their children, navigate them towards a bright and happy future with the hope it all slots into place like a jigsaw.
As the story unfolds and the facts are laid bare, we are hit in the face with more existential questions than we bargain for: Are we programmed to act or think in a certain way? Is it nature or nurture which drives us?
As a parent, I am always on the lookout for books which can broaden my outlook- challenge me to redefine my beliefs. Defending Jacob did just that.
William Landay, a former lawyer and an Assistant District attorney, clearly draws on his experience to present the story in a no-nonsense, authentic tone of a courtroom trial while seamlessly delving through the different characters to intricately weave a plot full of intrigue, mystery and drama. He manages to keep the readers hooked with the sheer unpredictability of his characters.
The addition of Reading group Notes and Conversation with the author as part of the book was particularly interesting.
Landay’s debut novel Mission Flats, was awarded the John Creasey Dagger (now called the New Blood Dagger) as the best debut crime novel of 2003 by the British Crime Writers Association.
His second novel, The Strangler, was shortlisted for the Strand Magazine Critics Award as the best crime novel of 2007.
Landay’s third novel, Defending Jacob, was released in January 2012. It was awarded the Strand Magazine Critics Award for best mystery novel of 2012 and was nominated for several other awards. It was also recently dramatized as a web series.