Defending Jacob

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Defending Jacob
Defending Jacob.jpg
AuthorWilliam Landay
PublisherRandom House

Defending Jacob is an American crime-drama novel written by novelist William Landay. The book was published in January 2012 by Random House. It tells the story of a father dealing with the accusation that his 14-year-old son is a murderer.[1]


Andy Barber is an assistant district attorney in Newton, Massachusetts. He is investigating the murder of a 14-year-old boy, Ben Rifkin, who was a classmate of his son Jacob. Andy initially suspects Leonard Patz, a known local pedophile, but soon, he is approached by Ben’s friend who hints at animosity between Ben and Jacob. Andy searches Jacob’s room and discovers a knife that fit the description of the murder weapon. Unsettled, Andy disposes of the knife. The next day, he is suddenly pulled off the case when a fingerprint found inside Ben’s sweater matches that of Jacob.

The finding shocks Andy and his wife, Laurie, but does not shake their belief in his innocence. Jacob claims that he found Ben dead in the park and tried to revive him. While Jacob spends the night in jail, Andy reveals to Laurie that his father, Billy Barber, was a convicted murderer and rapist who was serving his life sentence in jail. At the request of Jacob’s lawyer, Andy reluctantly meets with Billy. He seems to be indifferent to Jacob’s situation.

At the trial, incriminating evidence comes out, like a story Jacob posted online which read like a narrative of Ben’s murder. Just when things look bad for Jacob, Leonard Patz is found hanging in his house. He leaves behind an apparent suicide note taking responsibility for Ben’s murder. Jacob is cleared of all charges.

The Barber family is relieved, but Andy feels suspicious about Patz’s death. He visits his father again and learns that he had hired a hitman to kill Patz and leave behind the note. Billy expresses regret over his life in prison and realized he did not want the same for Jacob. Andy is angered by this since he believes Jacob is innocent and would have been cleared anyway.

Wanting to put the whole ordeal behind them, the Barber family decide to go on a vacation to Jamaica. There, Jacob meets a girl named Hope Connors and the two become close. One day while they are relaxing at the resort, Laurie notices a red stain on Jacob’s bathing suit. The next day, Hope is reported missing. Her body is found several weeks later, washed up ashore with evidence pointing to her windpipe being crushed.

Laurie becomes convinced of Jacob’s guilt and in turn feels guilty herself. On their way back from an interview, Laurie crashes the car she is driving with Jacob in it, instantly killing him, while sustaining critical injuries herself. Andy is questioned in connection with Jacob’s death but refuses to cooperate or incriminate Laurie in any way. Afterward, Andy tries to imagine the final moments of Jacob’s life and what he would have become had he lived.


Landay viewed Defending Jacob as a deviation from his usual style of writing, explaining: "My first two books were easy to categorize as “crime novels.” I have no problem with that label, but the fact is a lot of mainstream readers simply won’t even consider them. You could call Defending Jacob a crime novel, too, but you could just as easily call it a family drama".[2] In an interview with The Huffington Post, Landay said that while he tried to avoid using real-life cases for his books, "there were many cases that inspired various aspects of [Defending Jacob], most of them of only local interest in the Boston area, where I live".[3] In a separate interview, he revealed that "the first manuscript of Defending Jacob that I submitted actually had a different ending. What followed was a very long discussion about how the story could end in a way that was both big enough to be dramatically satisfying yet small enough to be credible for the ordinary people who populate the book".[2]


Defending Jacob received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised the book's subject matter and handling of court scenes. Patrick Andersen of Washington Post called it an "exceptionally serious, suspenseful, engrossing story", with an ending that was "all too real, all too painful, all too haunting".[4] Hallie Ephron of The Boston Globe also positively reviewed the book's "riveting courtroom procedure" and its parallel narratives that "interlock like the teeth of a zipper, building to a tough and unflinching finale".[5] Entertainment Weekly's Thom Geier gave it a B+, stating: "[Landay's] prose can be workmanlike and his dialogue pedestrian (Jacob and his peers sound like no teens you’ve ever met). But with a grabby premise and careful plotting, he keeps you turning the pages through the shocking gut-punch of an ending".[6] Writing for the Chicago Tribune, Julia Keller gave the book a mixed review, panning the "inexplicable bursts of clunky, cliche-ridden prose and huge dumps of exposition" and opined that the ending was "signaled so flamboyantly and built up to at such tedious length that that readers will be well within their rights to skim".[7] In his piece for Kirkus Reviews, J. Kingston Pierce disagreed, writing: "Many readers, preferring neatly tied-up plots, will be frustrated by the way Landay drops red herrings and possibly significant clues, but then leaves a surfeit of questions outstanding at the end of the book. However, the raggedness of this story’s final section, especially, is one of its signal strengths".[8]


  1. ^ "Defending Jacob". Goodreads. Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  2. ^ a b Parks, Brad (December 29, 2012). "Year End Review: Defending Bill, An Interview with William Landay". Mulholland Books. Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  3. ^ Darnton, Nina (November 17, 2014). "Questions for William Landay, Author of Defending Jacob". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  4. ^ Anderson, Patrick (February 5, 2012). "Book review: 'Defending Jacob,' by William Landay". Washington Post. Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  5. ^ Ephron, Hallie (February 19, 2012). "'Defending Jacob,' 'The Boy Who Shoots Crows,' 'Taken'". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  6. ^ Geier, Thom (January 27, 2012). "Defending Jacob review - William Landay". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  7. ^ Keller, Julia (February 3, 2012). "Deadly DNA, dastardly acts". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 8 April 2017.
  8. ^ Pierce, J. Kingston (February 7, 2012). "No Easy Answers in Landay's Legal Thriller". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 8 April 2017.