(Audio)Book Talk: DEFENDING JACOB, by William Landay

DEFENDING JACOB William Landay indiebounddotorgDefending Jacob: A Novel
William Landay
(Facebook)
(Twitter)
Audiobook read by Grover Gardner
Bantam (2013), Paperback (ISBN 0345533666 / 9780345533661)
Fiction (genre: suspense/legal thriller), 448 pages
Source: Purchased audiobook (Blackstone Audio, 2012; Audible ASIN B0073OGZNM)

SGW at The Cue Card neatly summed up this novel very much as I would have, so I’m just going to quote her:

Defending Jacob has all the elements of a riveting Presumed Innocent courtroom crime drama. It reminded me a bit of the 1987 Scott Turow classic mixed perhaps slightly with Lionel Shriver’s 2003 novel We Need to Talk About Kevin–it’s just a bit different and maybe not as intense.”

Neither of those comparisons should be construed as an insult, in my opinion. I’m not a big genre-fiction reader, but when I have read genre, the legal thriller/”courtroom drama” has been one of my favorites, and Presumed Innocent is one of the best examples of it I know. And the brilliant, shocking We Need to Talk About Kevin was on my 2013 Books of the Year list.

The …Kevin resemblance jumped out at me fairly quickly, and for one reason in particular: the mothers in both novels were able to see their sons as capable of committing horrible acts of violence, while the fathers downplayed or denied the possibility. Other than in tone, I didn’t connect Defending Jacob with Presumed Innocent until very late in the story.

While listening to the audiobook, I had commented that the characters were annoying me, but I couldn’t have articulated exactly why at the time. I realized later that it was because their interactions with each other were frequently so true to life–conversations where one person didn’t really listen to the other, and behavior based on assumptions and lack of self-awareness–that they were just frustrating the devil out of me. I don’t know whether I’ve ever told characters in an audiobook to “shut up and listen” more than I did during Defending Jacob, but I think that’s a good indicator of how well-developed the human drama of this novel is.

I think author William Landay’s choice to use Jacob’s father Andy as the first-person narrator is effective for the emotional impact, but in other respects his role in the story feels dramatically contrived. For that reason, I think the novel might have worked better for me overall in third person and/or with at least one other perspective. That said, reading in first person can make an audiobook performance both more intimate and authoritative, and I thought Grover Gardner handled it extremely well.

Now for the twist: I realize I may be sounding fairly negative about this novel, but I don’t mean to at all. Defending Jacob is a compelling blend of legal and family drama, and even if its characters did annoy me, I was eager to see how their story played out. The novel is a little overloaded in some respects–I felt like there didn’t need to be quite so much Barber-family backstory to establish one of the central themes–and a bit underdeveloped in others, but it raises some big, thorny questions that would make it a great book-club pick.

Rating: Book, 3.5 of 5; Audio, 3.75 of 5
Other reviews, via the Book Blogs Search Engine

Book description, from the publisher’s website:

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 their 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.

From Chapter One:

“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.

“I have always had a soft spot for Neal Logiudice…With the best intentions, he smashed people’s lives and never lost a minute of sleep over it. He only went after bad guys, after all. That is the Prosecutor’s Fallacy-They are bad guys because I am prosecuting them-and Logiudice was not the first to be fooled by it, so I forgave him for being righteous. I even liked him. I rooted for him precisely because of his oddities, the unpronounceable name, the snaggled teeth-which any of his peers would have had straightened with expensive braces, paid for by Mummy and Daddy-even his naked ambition. I saw something in the guy. An air of sturdiness in the way he bore up under so much rejection, how he just took it and took it. He was obviously a working-class kid determined to get for himself what so many others had simply been handed. In that way, and only in that way, I suppose, he was just like me.”

Affiliate Marketing Links
Shop Indie Bookstores

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 8 other subscribers

“I’ll stir-fry you in my wok…”

“I’ll stir-fry you in my wok…”

…but that’s a really weird way to prepare Italian food. (This week’s Wordless Wednesday prompt was provided by Kim Tracy Prince and the Beastie Boys.) Eataly, New York City, May 2011 An InLinkz Link-up Subscribe to Blog via Email Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Join 8 other subscribers Email Address

A Fan(girl)’s Notes: (Untimely) Thoughts on SHERLOCK, Series 3

A Fan(girl)’s Notes: (Untimely) Thoughts on SHERLOCK, Series 3

(NOTE: I will make NO attempts to avoid possible spoilers for any previous season of Sherlock in the following discussion. If you’re a spoilerphobe, please feel free to slip out now!) (NOTE: This has been edited and republished to include some observations I inadvertently left out of the original post, and which have no impact on the preceding spoiler-policy disclaimer.) We’ve become used to intervals of two or three years between installments in movie series, […]

What’s On in the (Sunday) Salon, 2/23/2014

What’s On in the (Sunday) Salon, 2/23/2014

My Facebook friends may have seen my request for a Sunday Salon posting dispensation last week. I don’t want to do that two weeks in a row, so…hey, I’m here! How are you doing this weekend? What I’m reading in print All my print reading these days is for review commitments–mostly for Shelf Awareness, but I do have three blog tours scheduled between now and early April. (I rarely do those any more, but it’s […]

Book Talk: COINCIDENCE, by J.W. Ironmonger

Book Talk: COINCIDENCE, by J.W. Ironmonger

Coincidence: A Novel (previously published in the UK as The Coincidence Authority) J.W. Ironmonger (Twitter) Harper Perennial (2014), Paperback (ISBN 0062309897 / 9780062309891) Fiction, 304 pages Source: ARC from the publisher, via TLC Book Tours  Visit the other stops on this TLC Book Tour for more discussion of Coincidence. I received a copy of the book to facilitate this post, but was not otherwise compensated for participation in this blog tour. Comments: I like this […]

WW: Black & White & A Little (TARDIS) Blue

WW: Black & White & A Little (TARDIS) Blue

Paul and I spent Valentine’s weekend sharing the love of Doctor Who with fellow fans and friends (and a few stars) of the show at the annual Gallifrey One convention here in Los Angeles. Saturday was our “cosplay day.”  Disclosure: I made edits to comply with this week’s Wordless Wednesday theme, “Black and White,” but since this 50-year-old TV show was in black-and-white when it started, I think they’re appropriate. An InLinkz Link-up Subscribe to […]

Book Talk: ONE MORE THING, by B.J. Novak

Book Talk: ONE MORE THING, by B.J. Novak

One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories B.J. Novak (Twitter) Knopf (February 2014), Hardcover (ISBN 0385351836 / 9780385351836) Fiction (short stories), 288 pages A version of this review was previously published in Shelf Awareness for Readers (2/14/2014). Shelf Awareness provided me with a publisher-furnished galley to facilitate the review, and compensated me for the review they received and posted. Actor/writer B.J. Novak (The Office) bucks the linked-short-stories trend in his first fiction collection, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, but […]

WW: (Puppy) Love

WW: (Puppy) Love

Puppy Love: Paul and Bellatrix, our “grand-dog,” December 2013 Puppy Love 2: Bel and her “mom,” Kate An InLinkz Link-up Subscribe to Blog via Email Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Join 8 other subscribers Email Address

(Audio)Book Talk: GOING CLEAR, by Lawrence Wright

(Audio)Book Talk: GOING CLEAR, by Lawrence Wright

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief Lawrence Wright Audiobook read by Morton Sellers Vintage (November 2013), Paperback (ISBN 0385393040 / 9780385393041) Nonfiction, 560 pages Source: Purchased audiobook (Random House Audio, January 2013, ISBN 9780385393058; Audible ASIN B00AYLFLCM) I’ve spent about 40% of my life in places where the Church of Scientology’s presence is hard to ignore: the obvious one is here in Los Angeles, and the other one is Tampa Bay. (The […]

Sunday Salon 2-9-2014: Gray & Grumpy Edition

Sunday Salon 2-9-2014: Gray & Grumpy Edition

It’s gray, damp, and California-chilly this weekend; we’ve had some sorely-needed rain during the past few days. Between the moody weather and being at the midpoint of two busy and stressful weeks–and hoping I’m not getting sick!–I’m simultaneously tired and restless, and the combination of it all has me just a little grumpy and out-of-sorts this weekend. What I’m reading in print I’ve got three ARCs in various degrees of progress right now. Coincidence by J.W. Ironmonger […]

The Armchair BEA 2014 Recruitment Post

The Armchair BEA 2014 Recruitment Post

One of my proudest achievements as a book blogger is being part of the founding team of Armchair BEA, the virtual companion event to Book Expo America and the BEA Bloggers Conference, and seeing how it’s grown and developed from its grassroots beginnings in a Twitter conversation in the weeks before BEA 2010. But the bittersweet flip side to success is the amount of work required to sustain it. In order to sustain Armchair BEA […]

WW: Wild(wood) Life

WW: Wild(wood) Life

It’s a “Wild Card” week for my Wordless Wednesday group, so it seems like the perfect time to get out in the wild and show you some of the scenery at our favorite place to hike, Wildwood Park. At Wildwood Park (Thousand Oaks, California), January 2014 document.write(”); Subscribe to Blog via Email Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Join 8 other subscribers Email Address

What’s On in the (Sunday Salon), 2-2-2014

What’s On in the (Sunday Salon), 2-2-2014

Dateline: Saturday evening, on the MacBook, at the kitchen desk, about to spend a quiet night at home by myself. (Well, maybe not that quiet–I do have iTunes cranked up right now.) Tall Paul is out for the evening, shooting photos at a “movie star gala” that you won’t see on TV. I’ll probably be spending the time after I finish this post reading, since I don’t really know how to work all of our TV-related remotes. (I wish I were […]