Defending Jacob

Defending Jacob by William LandayDefendingJacob
Published: January, 2012 (Delacorte Press)
Format: Kindle E-Book
Recommended By: Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty
I Categorized It As: Mystery/Thriller, Psychological Fiction & Popular Fiction
My Rating: 4/5

Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber is involved in the investigation of the brutal murder of a 14-year-old boy in a local park. Andy’s career and family life are shattered when his own 14-year-old son, Jacob, becomes the primary suspect.

Disturbing information surfaces suggesting Jacob may be a very disturbed young man. Have his parents turned a blind eye to this for over ten years? Furthermore, facts about the Barbers’ family history emerge, suggesting a genetic predisposition to violence.

This is a suspenseful novel that raises a plethora of intriguing and disturbing questions. What role does the media — including social media — play in the legal system? Why do adolescents turn violent? What role does bullying play? Is there such a thing as a “murder gene,” and if so, can this be clinically determined with certainty and even used as evidence in court? Is it possible to truly know another person, even ones own child?

Throughout much of the story I found the characters — Andy, his wife Laurie, and their son Jacob — frustratingly cold and aloof. However, I was seeing them through the eyes of Andy, the narrator, and this was in keeping with his character. And while I found a major plot twist easy to guess, this novel was deftly plotted, thought-provoking and suspenseful — it was a page turner.

I  loved the thorough, believable treatment of legal procedure. And it is to the author’s credit that, at one point, I found this story so disturbing I almost threw it aside. The theme of parental guilt over a deeply disturbed child was painful for me — at one moment I almost turned off my Kindle. But I had to see how the story ended. Well played, Mr. Landay. Well played. 🙂

Memorable Quotes:

  • A good marriage drags a long tail of memory behind it. A single word or gesture, a tone of voice can conjure up so many remembrances.
  • I have had an education in virtuosic lying, believe me.
  • Why risk the rare happy marriage— rarer still, a love marriage that endures— for something as common and as toxic as complete, unthinking, transparent honesty?
  • Here is the dirty little secret: the error rate in criminal verdicts is much higher than anyone imagines. Not just false negatives, the guilty criminals who get off scot-free— those “errors” we recognize and accept. They are the predictable result of stacking the deck in defendants’ favor as we do. The real surprise is the frequency of false positives, the innocent men found guilty. That error rate we do not acknowledge— do not even think about—because it calls so much into question. The fact is, what we call proof is as fallible as the witnesses who produce it, human beings all. Memories fail, eyewitness identifications are notoriously unreliable, even the best-intentioned cops are subject to failures of judgment and recall. The human element in any system is always prone to error. Why should the courts be any different? They are not. Our blind trust in the system is the product of ignorance and magical thinking, and there was no way in hell I was going to trust my son’s fate to it.
  • A liberal , it turns out, is a conservative who’s been indicted.
  • I understood that the actual reason courtrooms often have no windows is to prevent the parties from heaving lawyers out of them.
  • the shadow trial of public opinion
  • It is a childish realization, I admit— no one worth knowing can be quite known, no one worth possessing can be quite possessed— but after all, we were children.
  • The murder gene was a lie. A lawyer’s con game. It was also a deeply subversive idea. It undercut the whole premise of the criminal law. In court, the thing we punish is the criminal intention— the mens rea, the guilty mind. There is an ancient rule: actus non facit reum nisi mens sit rea—“the act does not create guilt unless the mind is also guilty.” That is why we do not convict children, drunks, and schizophrenics: they are incapable of deciding to commit their crimes with a true understanding of the significance of their actions. Free will is as important to the law as it is to religion or any other code of morality.
  • Jacob’s trial was scheduled for October 17, and the date became an obsession . It was as if the future, which we had formerly measured by the length of our lives, as everyone does, now had a definite endpoint . Whatever lay beyond the trial, we could not imagine.
  • The Web is a prosecutor’s fantasy, a monitoring and recording device that hears the most intimate, lurid secrets, even those never spoken out loud . It is better than a wire. It is a wire planted inside everyone’s head.
  • An emotion is a thought, yes, an idea, but it is also a sensation, an ache in your body .
  • It is the happy lot of defense lawyers to see the good in people. No matter how wicked or incomprehensible the crime, no matter how overwhelming the evidence of guilt, the defense lawyer never forgets his client is a human being like the rest of us. That, of course, is what makes every defendant worth defending. I cannot tell you how many times a lawyer has suggested to me that his baby-shaker or wife-beater “really isn’t a bad guy.” Even the swaggering mercenaries with their gold Rolexes and alligator briefcases harbor this tiny redeeming fleck of humanism: every criminal is still a man, a complex of good and bad, fully deserving of our empathy and mercy. To cops and prosecutors, things are not so sunny. We have the opposite impulse. We are quick to see the stain, the worm, the latent criminality in even the best people. Experience tells us the nice man next door is capable of anything. The priest may be a pedophile, the cop a crook; the loving husband and father may harbor a filthy secret. Of course, we believe these things for the same reason the defender believes as he does: people are only human.
  • face. I have an idea that this is what enduring love really means. Your memories of a girl at seventeen become as real and vivid as the middle-aged woman sitting in front of you. It is a happy sort of double vision, this seeing and remembering. To be seen this way is to be known.
  • Now, spend enough time in a courthouse and you become a connoisseur of lying. You learn to recognize the various types of bullshit, as Eskimos are said to distinguish different types of snow.

2 responses to “Defending Jacob

  1. I am glad you liked it, Steph! Given the subject matter, I know this book won’t appeal to everyone. The parental guilt theme you mention was the reason I had to stop listening for a few days. My husband was a good sport as I discussed the book with him as I listened. He often is, even though he doesn’t read the books along side me. I love him for that. 🙂

    • Your husband sounds awesome. 😉 I was wondering whether other parents reacted to this book — specifically the theme of parental guilt — the way I did. Even though I don’t have a child with issues like Jacob’s, it triggered some very disturbing feelings for me. Still it was a great read! Thanks for recommending it.

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