William Landay's new book Defending Jacob begins when a young boy in a sheltered and affluent community is found murdered (stabbed and left in a park). Andy Barber, an established and respected Assistant District Attorney, immediately steps up to find the killer and then prosecute the murderer. Surprisingly it seems that his own son Jacob is the prime suspect and Jacob is eventually charged with the gruesome crime. Could Jacob really be a sociopathic killer and have his parents missed or ignored the signs in their 14-year-old son?
Andy also has been less than forthcoming about his own childhood and his past with his wife Laurie. He has hidden the fact that his father is a convicted criminal who has spent most of his life in prison. Perhaps there is inheritied propensity for criminial behavior in the family and that might be the reason why Jacob has behaved in this way.
The scenes in the courtroom during Jacob's trial are at the core of this book, and this is where Landay (who is himself a former district attorney) is at his best. Andy quits his job so that he can assist in the defense of his son; he has insider knowledge about the workings of the court and the personalities of the people involved in the case. Although his wife Laurie is not as certain, Andy seemingly wholeheartedy believes in his son discarding or denying any evidence to the contrary. He has developed what is to him a convincing scenario involving the "real" killer.
There are many twists and turns in this story, which make it hard to put down. Defending Jacob is told from Andy's point of view; the reader only knows his perceptions of Jacob, we rarely see things from his point of view. Landay avoids the easy answers about inherited tendencies toward criminal behavior, but still leaves the reader pondering. Should a parent always stand behind a child no matter what the child's done? What is more important nature or nuture? What is normal teenage behavior? Landay as a good novelist should, lets the reader draw his or her own conclusions in this gripping and readable book.