Years ago, when my daughter was in elementary school, she attended the school where I taught. I used to wonder how I would handle the situation if she ever became a disciplinary problem. The ramifications for my relationships with my peers, my employer, and the community at large seemed daunting. Luckily, I never needed to find out – she was a good student and well-behaved.
This is more or less the situation in which Andy Barber, the narrator and protagonist of William Landay’s new novel, Defending Jacob, finds himself, although the stakes are much higher for him. Andy is the Assistant DA for Middlesex County, an upscale community outside of Boston. A classmate of his 14-year old son, Jacob, is found murdered in a public park near the middle school his son attends. In the course of the investigation, Jacob becomes the prime suspect for the murder.
This novel is less a murder mystery – and I’m not going to spoil it by hinting at the outcome – than it is a study in family dynamics. Landay skillfully explores the impact that this accusation has on Barber, his wife, Laurie, and their son, as seen through Barber’s eyes.
For me, the choice of narrator made this an especially great read. There is no way that Andy Barber can be a reliable narrator – he’s too embroiled personally and professionally to be objective. Everything we learn about the crime is filtered through Andy’s telescopic lens: the Facebook chats that Jacob’s classmates use to discuss the crime, the thoroughness of the investigation, the character of the victim and, most of all, the objectivity of Neal Logiudice, the prosecutor put in charge of the case. It’s up to the reader to try to sort out what to believe and what is an attempt on Andy’s part to protect himself and his family.
If you decide to read it – and I recommend you do – don’t start it until you have the time to see it through to the end. This book is a real page turner.