So there you are – married, a young son, a good job, nice house. Life seems to be a highway without any speed breakers. Then one day, it all goes to hell. Your son is the prime suspect in the murder of his classmate. You are the assistant district attorney. It’s not a speed breaker you have run in to, it’s a bloody, immovable wall. Life has just screeched to a halt. Apart from your son being accused in a heinous crime, you are out of a job.
Defending Jacob is a fine, fine novel that tells the story of a family, of a couple, coming to terms with the fact that their son stands accused of a crime; not just any crime, but murder. It traces the human drama behind such cases. Yes, the courtroom drama is there too. Why wouldn’t it be? William Landay was an ADA until he quit to become a full-time writer.
The story is told by the father, Andy Barber. He is in the witness box and relating the events of the case to a jury. But why is he doing that? Why is the father of the defendant telling the story of the case from a witness box?
Landay captures the agony of parents who have to face up to the fact that they may have created, birthed, a murderer. In such cases, it’s not just the defendant who is on trial, but the parents too. So many questions are asked. What kind of upbringing did he have? Was he abused at home? Questions pointed at the parents and not the alleged murderer.
Landay also dares to go into the relationship between the parents. How does something like this affect a marriage? Do the couple find the strength in each other? Do they look inwards for strength? Will the marriage survive the strain?
Then there is the main question – did Jacob Barber do it? If he didn’t do it, what will the verdict be? Will the tragedy of the death of a young boy be compounded by the death of yet another innocent boy?
Landay takes you everywhere Grisham never went and weaves a spell-binding tale that will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.