Defending Jacob: A Novel
by William Landay

Published: 2012-01-31
Kindle Edition : 432 pages
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Entertainment Weekly • The Boston Globe • Kansas City Star
“A legal thriller that’s comparable to classics such as Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent . . . Tragic and shocking, Defending Jacob is sure to generate buzz.”—Associated ...
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Entertainment Weekly • The Boston Globe • Kansas City Star
“A legal thriller that’s comparable to classics such as Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent . . . Tragic and shocking, Defending Jacob is sure to generate buzz.”—Associated Press

Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney for two decades. He is respected. Admired in the courtroom. Happy at home with the loves of his life, his wife, Laurie, and teenage son, Jacob.

Then Andy’s quiet suburb is stunned by a shocking crime: a young boy stabbed to death in a leafy park. And an even greater shock: The accused is Andy’s own son—shy, awkward, mysterious Jacob.

Andy believes in Jacob’s innocence. Any parent would. But the pressure mounts. Damning evidence. Doubt. A faltering marriage. The neighbors’ contempt. A murder trial that threatens to obliterate Andy’s family.

It is the ultimate test for any parent: How far would you go to protect your child? It is a test of devotion. A test of how well a parent can know a child. For Andy Barber, a man with an iron will and a dark secret, it is a test of guilt and innocence in the deepest sense.

How far would you go?

Praise for Defending Jacob
“Ingenious . . . Nothing is predictable. All bets are off.”—The New York Times
“Stunning . . . a novel that comes to you out of the blue and manages to keep you reading feverishly until the whole thing is completed.”—The Huffington Post
“Gripping, emotional murder saga . . . The shocking ending will have readers pulling up their bedcovers to ward off the haunting chill.”—People
“The hype is justified. . . . Exceptionally serious, suspenseful, engrossing.”—The Washington Post
“Even with unexpected twists and turns, the two narratives interlock like the teeth of a zipper, building to a tough and unflinching finale. This novel has major motion picture written all over it.”—The Boston Globe
“Yes, this book came out in January. No, we are not done talking about it.”—Entertainment Weekly

BONUS: This edition contains excerpts from William Landay's Mission Flats and The Strangler.

Editorial Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, February 2012: A fast, compelling, and compulsively readable courtroom drama, Defending Jacob tells the story of a district attorneyâ??s son who is accused of killing a classmate. As the father attempts to prove his sonâ??s innocence, Landay explores uncomfortable territory: can a tendency toward violence be inherited? Is the capacity for murder a genetic disposition? The author, a former district attorney, gets the taut nuances just right, capturing the subtleties of a trial in a packed courtroom, where a small rustle or murmur can signify a lot. In the end Landay pulls off a clever plot device that doesnâ??t reveal itself until the final pages. --Neal Thompson

Featured Guest Review: Chevy Stevens on Defending Jacob

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the novels Still Missing and Never Knowing.

From the first few pages of Defending Jacob, I knew this book was special. More than an exciting courtroom drama that combines the best elements of a legal and psychological thriller, it also delves into the heart of a family, and will rip yours out in the process.

When a young boy is found brutally murdered in the woods in a peaceful New England town, his body hastily covered with leaves, the community is shaken to its core. No one more so than Andy Barber, a well-respected assistant district attorney whose fourteen-year-old son, Jacob, went to school with the boy. Sure, Jacob is a typical moody teenager, hiding in his room all day with his headphones and lap top, but Andy loves him more than anything in this world--and would do anything to protect him.

While Andy's wife, Laurie, struggles with the possibility that there's a killer on the loose and their own son could be next, Andy's determined to find the culprit and bring him to justice. He immerses himself in a maelstrom of angry parents demanding answers, police hell-bent on making an arrest, and the complicated lives of teenagers, with their own secrets, and reasons for keeping them.

When, in a stunning turn of events, Jacob is arrested for the crime, both Andy and Laurie are stalwart in their defense of their son: there's no way their child could've committed this terrible act. As more shocking facts are revealed and lies uncovered, Andy is pushed to the edge and his twenty-year marriage tested. Beautiful Laura, his college sweetheart and love of his life, begins to fade in front of his eyes, crumbling under the pressure of the trial, the public accusations, and the weight of her own doubts--in her son and her husband. When truths about Andy's past comes to surface, he must chose between the life he thought he'd left behind, and the father he wants to be.

Defending Jacob raises the question: how far would you go to protect your family? But it also leaves you wondering if anyone could answer that question, and whether we really know what we're capable of when push comes to shove.

Let's pray we never have to find out.

Featured Guest Review: Phillip Margolin on Defending Jacob

Phillip Margolin has been a Peace Corps Volunteer, a school teacher, and is the author of 15 New York Times bestsellers. He spent a quarter century as a criminal defense attorney during which he handled thirty homicide cases, including twelve death penalty cases, and argued at the United States Supreme Court. He is a co-founder of Chess for Success, a non-profit that uses chess to teach elementary school children study skills. His latest novel, Capitol Murder will be released in April, 2012.

One perk of being a bestselling author is that you are sent advance reading copies (ARCs) of books by first time authors, or published authors whose editors believe have written a breakout novel. The ARC is sent by the writer's editor in hopes that you will write a "blurb," which is a sentence or two praising the book that can be used in advertisements. The books I blurb range from fun reads to very good reads. Then there is the rare book that knocks my socks off. William Landay's Defending Jacob is one of these gems. It is a legal thriller, but so are To Kill a Mocking Bird, Snow Falling on Cedars and Anatomy of a Murder. Defending Jacob, like these classics, separates itself from the pack because it is also a searing work of literary fiction.

At the heart of Landay's exceptional novel is a parent's worst nightmare. Assistant district attorney Andy Barber, his wife, Laurie, and their teenage son, Jacob, are living an idyllic existence in a middle class Massachusetts suburb until one of Jacob's classmates is stabbed to death in the picturesque park where the locals jog, walk their dogs and picnic. It soon becomes clear that Jacob is the prime suspect and the Barbers have to confront the possibility that the child they have doted from birth may be a sociopathic killer.

Andy takes a forced leave of absence from his job and helps defend the son he loves from a charge he cannot believe is true. Is he engaging in self-deception? How far will he go to protect his family? Laurie wonders if something she did as a parent has created a monster and her guilt destroys her. And then there is Jacob. Is he a typical angst filled teenager or a psychopathic monster? Landay skillfully keeps the reader guessing about Jacob's culpability and true nature up to the shocking final chapters.

What makes Defending Jacob special is the way Landay gives the reader the twists, turns and surprises found in the best legal thrillers while making its centerpiece the tragedy faced by a normal family who are thrust into a nightmare.


Mr. Logiudice: State your name, please.
Witness: Andrew Barber.
Mr. Logiudice: What do you do for work, Mr. Barber?
Witness: I was an assistant district attorney in this county for 22 years.
Mr. Logiudice: "Was." What do you do for work now?
Witness: I suppose you'd say I'm unemployed.

In April 2008, Neal Logiudice finally subpoenaed me to appear before the grand jury. By then it was too late. Too late for his case, certainly, but also too late for Logiudice. His reputation was already damaged beyond repair, and his career along with it. A prosecutor can limp along with a damaged reputation for a while, but his colleagues will watch him like wolves and eventually he will be forced out, for the good of the pack. I have seen it many times: an ADA is irreplaceable one day, forgotten the next. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. How would you have handled this situation if you were Andy? Would you make the same choices he made? Where would you differ the most?

2. Before and during the trial, how would you have handled the situation if you were Laurie? Do you feel she made strong choices as a mother and a wife?

3. Is Andy a good father? Why or why not?

4. Do you believe Jacob is guilty?

5. Is Jacob a product of his upbringing? Do you think he is he a violent person because his environment makes him violent, or do you think he has violent inclinations since birth?

6. Bulleying is such a hot topic in today's media. How did the author incorporate it into the story, and do you think it's role had anything to do with Jacob's disposition? How do you think people should stop adolescent bullying?

7. How much of a factor did Jacob's age play into your sympathies for him or lack thereof? If Jacob were seventeen, would you view him differently? What about nine?

8. Do you think Neal Logiudice acts ethically in this novel? What about Andy? What about Laurie?

9. What was the most damning piece of evidence against Jacob? Was there anything that you felt exonerated him?

10. If Jacob hadn't been accused, how do you think his life would have turned out? What kind of a man do you think he would grow up to be?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

A Conversation with William Landay

Interview by Tess Taylor

Andy Barber, the narrator and protagonist in your book, is a guy who went to Yale and to work in a DA's office. You also attended Yale before becoming a DA. Any veiled autobiography here?

Well, certainly I drew on aspects of my own life as I was creating Andy, but there's no "autobiography." I never thought of Andy as a stand-in for myself, even when writing in his voice in first person — when I was pretending to be him. Actually, Andy began as an amalgam of several respected, soft-spoken, older trial lawyers whom I met during my years as an assistant D.A. But a funny thing happens as you write: you begin with a real-life model for a character, but you change him a little, then a little more, and at some point the model falls away and the character emerges as his own person. It's a mysterious fission. In the end, Andy did not resemble any of the lawyers I had in mind when I started.

But Andy is my creation and inevitably aspects of him reflect me, probably in ways more intimate than just biography. For all his fluency in the courtroom, he's essentially an introvert, as I am. He is doggedly loyal, especially in his determination not to abandon his son. Does that make him a good father or a good person? I don't know. Readers will have to decide for themselves. But I like him for it. Wouldn't we all like to think our dads (or spouses or friends) would stand by us, no matter what?

Jacob Barber, the accused murderer in your book, is a teenager, an 8th grader who is being tried as an adult. Are 8th graders currently tried this way in Massachusetts? And why that age? What makes a teenager a rich protagonist?

Yes, this is the current law. In Massachusetts, all defendants age 14 or older accused of first-degree murder are tried as adults, and if convicted they receive a mandatory sentence of life without parole.

The trial sequence in Defending Jacob is rendered about as accurately as good storytelling allows. Obviously there is compression for pace. Real trials move slowly. Technical rules play a larger part. But I didn't have to depart from reality much. Criminal trials are inherently theatrical — a live dramatic performance leading to the climax of a verdict. That is why writers, practically since Plato, have always been drawn to them.

Choosing to write about a teenager was a personal as well as creative decision. I have two boys myself. They are 8 and 10 years old. Those kids mean everything to me. My books have always been about family, but with Defending Jacob I wanted to write something even closer to my heart, something that would bring together the crime world of my D.A. years and the life that I live now, of being a young father. (I should point out, by the way, that my kids are perfectly well behaved. Neither has been accused of murder, at least! Disturbing the peace, maybe. )

And adolescence is such a powerful, universal experience. Many readers will have a teenager in their lives now or remember the turmoil of being one. It's a difficult time for parents and kids both — full of secrets, hormones, drama. High emotion is a storyteller's red meat.

You seem attuned Jacob's uneasy adolescent ways, particularly how he uses media — Twitter, Facebook, blogging. What about the technological revolution — especially as it's impacting young people — fascinates you?

I'm a bit of a tech geek myself. I use all these new media. Some I enjoy more than others. (Facebook creeps me out, honestly.) But I have no doubt that, whatever you may think of the "social web," it is hard to overstate its influence on our daily lives, especially the lives of young people. These "new media" are now a routine part of how we relate to one another. They tend, ironically, to make us feel less connected. It's fitting that we call them media: they mediate, they add a filter between us that can leave us feeling isolated.

To me, there is nothing inherently frightening in kids using these new ways of communicating. Trading gossip on Facebook isn't all that different from gossiping on the phone or passing notes in class. There is one key difference, though: the reach and anonymity of the web — where a kid sitting alone in his bedroom, feeling emboldened, typing on a laptop, can reach a very large audience — creates the risk of disaster. Ordinary bullying becomes cyber-bullying. Teasing becomes vicious. Kids do get hurt.

In Defending Jacob, the Barbers are shocked to find what their son Jacob has been up to on the Internet. I don't want readers to be freaked out by that aspect of the story, but if they take it as a wake-up call, an opportunity to figure out what their kids are doing online, then that is a good thing.

Your book also has a science angle — exploring something the book calls "the murder gene." When you're crafting evidence for a fictional piece, what kinds of research do you do into, say, contemporary uses of science in the courtroom?

The science in the novel is a very real area of research. It's usually called behavioral genetics — the study of how genes affect behavior.

The subject tends to alarm people. It's important to keep this emerging science in perspective. Genes are not simple triggers. No one is hardwired to commit murder or any other crime. Our actions are always the result of stupendously complex gene-environment interactions, and environment is likely to remain the more important influence by far. Nurture, not nature. At the same time, having mapped the human genome, we are entering a new era in which we finally have real insight into the "nature" side of the debate.

The specific genetic variation mentioned in Defending Jacob, a mutation of the MAOA gene, is quite real. Linked to aggressive behavior, it has been called the "warrior gene." A few details about it were elided to serve the story, but it is generally described accurately.

I learn as much as I can about any scientific issue I use in my books, but I am not a scientist. When push comes to shove, I do fudge facts as necessary to tell a good story. I think the job of novelists — and all artists, I suppose — is not to portray the latest science with 100% accuracy. It is to begin to think about what science means for ordinary people in human terms. Raising questions about science, about its implications for society — that is as important as science itself. We still can't build a human out of parts, but we haven't stopped thinking about Frankenstein. In its own way, Defending Jacob raises similar questions.

Defending Jacob is more psychologically upsetting than actually gory. Act for act, there's less physical violence in this book than in many crime novels — only scattered incidents of bloodshed, suspected but unconfirmed murders. Nevertheless, the weight of what might have happened is heavy. Do you have a philosophy about how much actual violence to show versus how much to imply?

It's simple: I have no problem with storytellers using violence (or sex or profanity) so long as it is true to the story. The trouble comes in using cheap violence — to give an easy thrill or to indulge people's worst impulses (bloodlust, misogyny). It's phony suspense. In Defending Jacob, I didn't need to show much. The foreboding actually reflects how little violence the reader sees.

I was impressed with the book's flow. I devoured it in one gulp, so to speak. Can you let us into your craft? How do you plot a thriller?

Thank you. Well, I outline fanatically. I am a long thinker and a slow writer, though I am trying to get faster. (My children have an unfortunate habit of eating. And outgrowing their clothes. Hence the need to produce more books!) Probably careful plotting reflects my personality. I am meticulous by nature. I can't imagine speed-writing anything that happens to pop into my head.

As for my typical workday, it really depends. Early on, when I am still trying to figure out what my story is, my days can be unstructured and frankly very frustrating. Toward the end, words tend to come in waves and the days get very long. The last fifty pages of Defending Jacob were written in one long sprint over the course of only a few days. I work exclusively on a computer — my outlines, notes and drafts rarely ever get printed out. I often work in coffee shops. So you may see me one day, hunched over a laptop, typing madly with two fingers or (more likely) staring into space.

Who are the writers you are reading now? What recent books inspire you?

One of the best parts of becoming a writer is that I have the privilege of reading advance copies of books before they are published. One of these, The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson*, absolutely blew me away. It's out in January and I hope lots of people read it. Set in North Korea, it is the story of Pak Jun Do, a man who rises from miserable roots to stand beside the "Dear Leader" himself, Kim Jong-il. It is an epic story — a big book in every sense — and utterly riveting. Kim Jong-il's death has put North Korea in the headlines lately. I hope the increased level of interest somehow helps Adam's amazing novel find the audience it deserves.

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