William Landay

Defending Jacob

  • 41-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 40 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college professor with a PhD in English from Brown
Access Full Summary

Defending Jacob Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 41-page guide for “Defending Jacob” by William Landay includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 40 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Nurture Versus Nature and The Fallibility of the Law.

Plot Summary

Defending Jacob is a 2012 crime novel by William Landay. The main character is Andy Barber, a Massachusetts assistant district attorney, who finds his personal and professional life thrown into turmoil when his son, Jacob Barber, is accused of murdering his classmate Ben Rifkin. Andy, a resident of Newton, Massachusetts, narrates the events of the 2007 murder and trial alongside the transcripts of a 2008 grand jury investigation whose subject remains unstated until the final pages of the novel. In the process, the reader must evaluate Andy’s testimony—both the grand jury transcripts and his narration—to determine whether Jacob is guilty and what role Andy plays in his potential crimes.

As ADA, Andy takes the lead in investigating Ben’s murder. Despite objections from his boss, Lynn Canavan, Andy does not believe his involvement in the local community poses a conflict of interest. However, when Andy discovers Jacob’s close friend Derek Yoo has accused Jacob of the murder, Andy does not share the information with the department and disposes of the knife Derek identifies as the murder weapon. Andy is convinced the true murderer is a local pedophile, Leonard Patz, and tells the reader he interferes only to protect Jacob from a wrongful conviction. It is not long, however, until a bloody thumbprint on Ben’s sweatshirt is revealed as Jacob’s. Andy is put on paid leave, and Jacob is arrested.

Andy realizes that his own family history will play a role in Jacob’s trial: He comes from a long line of violent men, and his own father, Billy Barber, is in prison for murder. As the trial takes shape, Andy shares this information with Jacob’s lawyer, Jonathan Klein. Laurie Barber, Andy’s wife and Jacob’s mother, becomes increasingly convinced of Jacob’s guilt now that she has a new context for his aggressive, antisocial behavior; she confesses to a psychiatrist, Dr. Elizabeth Vogel, that she has long suspected there is something wrong with her son. Andy, however, maintains his absolute faith in Jacob’s innocence.

With months to go before the trial, the family struggles with the anxiety of waiting. Jacob posts ill-advised images on Facebook; Laurie loses weight and her youthful glow; and Andy begins to engage in rule-breaking, even violent behavior. While Andy insists that there is no family tendency towards violence, he harasses teenagers, including Derek, Jacob’s classmate Sarah Groehl, and Patz’s accuser Matthew Magrath, notably using force to extract information from Matthew. Andy stalks and even confronts Patz, increasingly convinced of his guilt.

In the course of preparing for the trial, Jacob’s lawyer Jonathan seeks to gather DNA evidence that might prove Jacob has a “murder gene” that makes him less responsible for the murder (downgrading the charge from homicide to manslaughter). Andy reconnects with his father to gather a DNA sample. Billy learns about Andy’s suspicion of Patz. Meanwhile, a stranger, Father O’Leary, begins to watch over the Barber family.

The trial begins, and Jonathan faces off against the prosecutor, Neal Logiudice, Andy’s former coworker and mentee. Just after Derek gives damning testimony that convinces the jury, the courtroom, and Laurie of Jacob’s guilt, Patz turns up dead, having apparently killed himself and leaving a confession behind. Jacob’s case is dismissed. Relieved, Laurie begins to regain her faith in Jacob. Meanwhile, Andy believes that Father O’Leary coerced and killed Patz at his father Billy’s behest. Nonetheless, he is grateful that Jacob has been cleared.

The Barber family goes to Jamaica to escape Newton and the stress of the trial. There, Jacob connects with a girl, Hope Connors. A week into the trip, she goes missing. Seven weeks later, her body is found drowned with evidence of a crushed windpipe. There is rampant media speculation that Jacob committed a second murder. Andy tells the reader he is still convinced of his son’s innocence. Laurie, however, is increasingly disturbed. She ultimately kills Jacob by driving her car into a concrete barrier. He dies; she survives.

It is finally revealed that Laurie is the subject of the grand jury investigation: Logiudice has accused her of murdering her son. Throughout the novel, Andy has lied and obfuscated to protect her. The reader is left to determine whether he did the same for Jacob, and whether he truly believed in his son’s innocence.

This is just a preview. The entire section has 778 words. Click below to download the full study guide for Defending Jacob.

Chapters 1-4