Narrated by Grover Gardiner
Length: 12 hours 25 minutes
In this legal thriller, William Landay takes us into the hearts and minds of a family that is heading down the road to unstoppable destruction. Jacob Barber is 15 and not exactly one of the most popular kids at school. In fact, he’s often teased and bullied – a veritable outcast among the other students surrounding him. When one of Jacob’s tormentors is murdered in a particularly gruesome way, suspicion naturally falls on Jacob, who denies having any part in the crime. Jacob’s father, Andy, was at one time a district attorney and begins to feel the sting of judgement and rejection as well, as he sets about trying to prove Jake’s innocence. Andy, taking an almost predatory tactic of investigation, uncovers layer after layer of contradictory evidence, ultimately making a discovery about his family that could be disastrous to Jacob’s case. As the trial wears on, pulling the family deeper and deeper into the vortex of mistrust, confusion and schism, Andy and his wife must come to terms with the realities and idiosyncrasies of Jacob’s life as well as the flaws in their own marriage. Packed with unseen twists and turns, Defending Jacob is the tale of one floundering family fighting the struggle of their lives, concluding with an explosive and unexpected ending that will leave readers shocked and reeling, looking for clues and questioning every aspect of the narrative.
Normally, this book would have not registered on my radar, but the women who attend my yoga class all read it around the same time and convinced me to give it a try, telling me that it was not only chilling but well crafted. While I do agree that the book’s plot and twists were totally pulse-pounding, I think the girls and I had a different take on the well crafted aspects of the writing. While I agree that the book was indeed an interesting thriller, I felt at times the writing was laborious to listen to and could sometimes even be considered dull. The narrator, Grover Gardiner, was a good choice, his voice carrying all the necessary trepidation and mounting frustration and agitation of the narrative very convincingly. Unfortunately, this didn’t relieve the lack of enthusiasm I felt for the writing as a whole.
There’s a lot in this book to think about, and the realities of the crime and trial are constantly shifting. I didn’t know from one minute to the next whether Jake was guilty or just a convenient suspect. Although it wasn’t clear if Jake was the murderer or not, he was an extremely maladjusted young adult. When secrets came out about his family, the interplay of the realities of nature vs. nurture turn into a frightening froth of questions and speculation by all parties concerned with the case. There is no doubt that Jake is troubled but did he go so far as to commit this heinous crime that has been laid on his shoulders? Landay does a great job of making all the aspects of this thriller spectacularly tense and careful readers will understand that the murkiness of Jacob’s involvement is only one of the myriad of things that is rippling through the story.
While I loved the story, I must elaborate on the writing style of the book. Often it felt plodding and forced, and hearing it performed on audio was sometimes troublesome for me because things felt as if they moved too slowly, with a lot of verbal meandering that I just did not enjoy. I can understand that this was done to build tension, but for me, it was akin to wading through quicksand. There wasn’t a lot of chemistry to the writing, and though the story was involving and had hidden labyrinth-like twists, the writing didn’t have a lot of force and felt flat. Had this not been the case, this book might have made it on my best of the year list.
Much can be said about the impact that the plot makes on the reader and the ultimate shocking conclusion, but far from spoiling it for anyone, I’ll just say that it was completely unexpected. It changed the direction of the story completely and it totally blew me away. Some might liken this book to We Need to Talk About Kevin, and I can see that there are some aspects that are similar, but really this is a different kind of book altogether. Where Kevin was more of an introspective and reflective novel, this book was more of a courtroom drama mixed with bits of investigative procedural and it was more outwardly focused. Both had stunning conclusions but they were of a very different kind.
If you are a reader of thrillers or are one of the many who loved We Need to Talk About Kevin, then this is a book that you might want to take a look at. Defending Jacob is definitely a cut above the typical suspense novel, but as I mentioned before, the style of writing is just average. I might be alone in this assessment but I felt it needed to be mentioned. On the other hand, the plot is masterful and if you’re a reader who loves a great and complicated thrill, this one is for you.