Defending Jacob, William Landay’s third novel, is one of those books that librarians love to recommend because it appeals to a wide range of readers.
About his first two books, the author said at a recent Speed Dating with the Authors event that his writing style is “too literary” for genre fiction readers but his subject matter “too genre” for the literary readers. With a courtroom thriller/family drama like Defending Jacob, the author can successfully hook Scott Turow and Jodi Picoult readers, looking for a fast-paced, dramatic plot (preferably centering around a crime of some sort) as well as Chris Bohjalian and Anita Shreve readers, who want a meaty family drama with lots of character development and plenty of delving into questions of motivation, guilt, and responsibility.
When his son becomes the suspect of a murder investigation, Assistant District Attorney Andy Barber switches from prosecution to defense to keep his son from being wrongfully accused of the shocking death of one of Jacob’s classmates that has rocked the usually safe community. The audiobook is narrated by Grover Gardner, who does an excellent job as the voice of Andy, who narrates the story from a first-person point of view. At first I thought that he sounded a little old to be the father of fifteen-year-old Jacob, but that feeling went away quickly as he read on. Andy Barber is deeply and closely involved in the case against his son but he can’t help seeing the case proceedings from a lawyer’s perspective either – judging and privately criticizing the methods and decisions of the prosecution as if he were still on the state’s side. Grover Gardner captures this shifting and distancing very well and doesn’t overdramatize Andy Barber’s precise and careful attorney’s statements that don’t give away to the reader any more than he exactly what he intends to let slip. Complicating matters for Andy and his wife and son is his own buried history with his long-estranged father, which the author weaves into the story.
Defending Jacob was recently selected as a 2013 Must Read title by the Massachusetts Book Awards judges. The Must Reads are books by Massachusetts authors or having a Massachusetts theme that will foster meaningful discussions in libraries and elsewhere. Defending Jacob is set in Massachusetts (in Newton, a well-to-do suburb of Boston) and William Landay lives there, too, but the themes (teenagers and parents, crime and punishment, nature vs. nurture) that the book touches on are universal, making it an excellent choice for a book group.
Gardner, Grover, narr.
Blackstone Audio, 2012
11.7 hrs. on 10 CDs
Disclosure: I listened to this as an audiobook download through Overdrive, a free service provided through my public library system. (By the way, I only had to wait a few days for the audiobook; there was a much longer wait for the e-book edition.)