Thursday, August 18, 2011

Defending Jacob by William Landay

I have to admit that, while my reading horizons are broadening, thrillers are still my "go to" genre.  My personal opinion is that one's reading tastes develop early, and Nancy Drew and the Bobbsey Twin mysteries were among my favorites growing up.   So, when I was at the Book Expo and came upon a book that proclaims itself "the most buzzed about thriller of the year" and has endorsements from Lee Child and Lisa Gardner (two of my favorite thriller authors), how could I resist? 

The book opens with a former assistant district attorney's testimony in front of a grand jury.   The context isn't immediately clear, but you soon learn that the DA was involved in investigating the murder of a middle school boy and that his involvement and some of the decisions that he made have come into question.  You see, it turns out that the DA's son, Jacob, was indicted for the murder. 

The book has lots of twists and turns and I can already see it as a smash feature film.   You can feel the parents' pain and confusion as defending their son against these charges becomes the sole purpose of their lives and as they come upon the occasional piece of information that makes them question his innocence.  Jacob himself is the focus of the story but in some ways is a peripheral character.  He is, after all, a 14 or 15-year old boy who is still growing up.  

Despite the fact that the book is a thriller, Landay raises some thought provoking questions.  Can a tendency towards violence be inherited?  How far would you go to protect your child against a murder indictment, and at what price to your own integrity and to your marriage?  What is the appropriate balance between stark reality and "confirmation bias" (the tendency to see things in your environment that confirm your preconceived ideas and ignore things that conflict with what you believe)? (And is this really just a glass half full/glass half empty issue?)  

The publishers are promoting Defending Jacob as the next Presumed Innocence or Anatomy of a Murder.   From this reader's perspective, their hopes might be realized.  If you're a reader of thrillers, be on the look-out for Defending Jacob when it comes to your local bookstore next February.

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