Defending Jacob, by William Landay

Defending JacobThis book. I don’t want to complain about a book so soon after my last less-than-great read, so I’m going to try to be nice, but I make no guarantees.

Maybe it’s because I had heard so many people loving on this book and my expectations were just too high? Or because I’ve read enough Jodi Picoult in my life that I expect more from my quasi-legal quasi-thrillers? From the beginning I felt like Landay was following the Picoult School of Controversy and Third Act Twists, but this book never quite made me say, “HOLY HECK.” To be fair, others in my book club reported saying such things and being amazed by the twists, so this is clearly all my fault!

The story has promise; a father lawyer picks up a murder case that involves his son’s classmate and after a bit of setting up the story it turns out that the best suspect for the crime is said son, Jacob, and so said lawyer decides to, you know, defend Jacob by a) getting him a good defense lawyer and b) finding out who really dunnit, because of course it was not Jacob.

I did like that story, for the most part. I liked the ambiguousness of whether the kid really did it or if it was perhaps another good candidate, and I liked watching the family react to their all-but-torches-and-pitchforks neighbors. I also liked the bits where tech-savvy kids rolled their eyes at the old fart lawyer dad and then turned around and posted terrible things on Facebook thinking they were private, because it was all so very true. Landay gets in a lot of good scenes like that, where I was like oh my gosh that would totally happen.

But my problems came from the other scenes, where I was like oh my gosh that would totally never happen, like certain bits of the arrest and the trial that just did not make sense from what little I know about the law and also common sense. I also had trouble with the characters themselves; I disliked every major character and many of the minor ones as well, not just because they were acting like terrible human beings but also because they were annoying while doing it. I found our protagonist to be overly repetitive and his kid to be obtuse to a degree that would be impossible to ignore except, apparently, if you’re his father.

I ears-read the first half of this novel, which may account for some of my annoyance with the characters since the narrator played them pretty whiny and angry. The second half was better characters-wise, but then it got into the trial and that was alternately boring and frustrating (especially when it ends), and then the story ended but there was still book left and I was like WILL IT NEVER END.

After talking it over with my book club, all of whom liked the book better than me, I have a better appreciation of certain bits of the novel that I misunderstood or that I wouldn’t have understood because I’m not a parent or a person who works with kids or generally the target audience for this book. I still didn’t like the book, but I get why other people do.

Recommendation: For those who like crime stories with lots of ambiguity and stories that don’t end like you think they might.

Rating: 5/10

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