Defending Jacob Summary

William Landay

Defending Jacob

Defending Jacob Summary

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Defending Jacob is a family-driven crime novel written by William Landay and published in 2012. In the story, a man must come to terms with the possibility that his son is a murderer and deal with the consequences this will have for his career and family.

Andy Barber, an assistant district attorney in Newton, Massachusetts, is investigating the murder of a local boy, Ben Rifkin. His main suspect, Leonard Patz, is a man locally known to be a pedophile. One day, a friend of Ben’s suggests to him that there may have been a conflict between Ben and his son, Jacob. From here, his life takes a turn.

When he searches Jacob’s room, he finds a knife that matches the description of the murder weapon. He decides to dispose of the knife, but he is conflicted and unsettled. The next day, he finds himself off the investigation because of a fingerprint of Jacob’s found inside Ben’s sweater.

Jacob spends the night in jail. This development is shocking to Andy and his wife, Laurie, but they remain firm in their belief that he is innocent. Jacob claims that he found Ben dead in the park and tried to revive him. Due to these events, Andy reveals to Laurie that his father is a convicted killer and rapist serving a life sentence.

Andy visits his father, Billy, in jail and tells him about Jacob’s circumstances. Billy does not seem to care either way. The trial continues, and incriminating evidence comes out. Jacob wrote a story that matches the events of Ben’s death closely, and things begin to look bad. Then, Leonard Patz, Andy’s original suspect, is found dead hanging in his house. The authorities find a note inside confessing to Ben’s murder, and Jacob is cleared of all the charges.

Although the family is relieved, Andy grows suspicious of the events. When he visits his father again, he discovers that Billy had hired a man to kill Patz and leave the note. Andy is angry because he believes that Jacob would have been exonerated, but Billy explains that he regrets his time in prison and does not want the same fate for Jacob.

The family decides to go on vacation to put everything behind them. They go to Jamaica, where Jacob meets a girl named Hope Connors. The two of them become close and spend a lot of time together. One day while Laurie and Jacob are relaxing on the beach, she notices a red stain on his bathing suit. Later, Hope is reported missing. Her body washes up on shore several weeks later, and it appears that her windpipe is crushed.

After this, Laurie becomes convinced of Jacob’s guilt. One day on their way back from an interview, Laurie crashes the car she is driving with Jacob inside. It kills him instantly, and she sustains critical injuries. Andy refuses to cooperate with authorities or incriminate Laurie. In the end, he wonders what Jacob would have been like if he had been given a chance to grow up.

The book is an interesting mix of family drama and legal suspense. Andy and Laurie are typical suburban parents who believe they have done everything right by their son, but through the events of the book, find they don’t know him at all. Andy discovers that kids on Facebook are suspicious of Jacob and have always thought him a little weird.

One of the themes is our inability to see what is closest to us. Andy makes a huge leap assuming that Ben’s killer is a local pedophile, and he is forced to defend that leap in court. He does not suspect his son despite his son being a classmate and being bullied by Ben. Only when someone else plants the seed does he look at Jacob. Even when he is faced with evidence, he disposes of it instead of trying to confront the truth.

Laurie, on the other hand, experiences a mental decline in the book as her feelings about Jacob’s guilt begin to erode her health. It drives a wedge in their marriage, and it prevents them from coming together to deal with what is happening. After Hope’s death, Laurie loses all faith in Jacob, and her actions, in the end, are something that we do not see coming.

The novel also plays on a common question of nature versus nurture. Is Jacob a killer because this runs in his family, or are his family’s actions somehow responsible? The book does not say either way, and the reader must decide the source of Jacob’s issue. Laurie wrestles with the question of his guilt, and what he will be capable of in the future before making the split second decision to crash the car and end both of their guilt once and for all.

The book leaves a lot of questions up in the air with Jacob’s death and demands that the reader come to terms with something unthinkable. If the murderer were your own child, would you be able to see your child for who he or she really is? The question remains unanswered.