Parents sometimes worry about a lack of communication with their children, but they tend to convince themselves that monosyllabic, difficult teenagers are the norm — and that is precisely what Andy Barber (a prosecutor in Massachusetts) and his wife Laurie assume with regard to the tricky relationship with their son, Jacob. But then one of Jacob’s classmates is discovered dead in a nearby park. Andy is summoned to the murder scene by the police and his suspicions fall on a paedophile who lives in the area. But then it is revealed that Andy’s son discovered the body, had a knife in his possession — and had a motive for the killing. The odds stacked against Andy and his son are ratcheted up by a rival in the prosecutor’s office who takes over the murder case and decides that there is enough evidence to secure a conviction.
In all the best legal thrillers – and William Landay’s Defending Jacob is one of the best — it is crucial that we worry about the insuperable problems loaded on the shoulders of the central characters, and Landay handles that aspect with authority. Andy’s wife, Laurie, is a vulnerable individual who quickly begins to buckle under the tension affecting the family, and Jacob does himself no favours by posting what he describes as jokey messages on Facebook in which he appears to implicate himself. Under most pressure is Andy, who sees his career as a prosecutor slipping away from him — and even if he is able to save his son, destitution beckons. Could things get worse? Yes they could — there is a dark secret in Andy’s past: three generations on the male side of his family have been murderers… is this a genetic inevitability?
Word of mouth on a new novel is not always to be trusted, but sometimes a new book handsomely fulfils all the expectations — such a novel is Defending Jacob. Like Scott Turow, William Landay is a lawyer who made his mark as a prosecutor before literary success beckoned. If Turow’s Presumed Innocent remains the definitive legal thriller, Defending Jacob is one of the most accomplished entries among the army of similar books that have followed in the wake of Turow. And here’s some advice to readers: you will need to tackle this quickly, before friends start to discuss the shocking ending with you.
DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay Orion, £12.99)