Defending Jacob by William Landay

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date Read: January 14 to 30, 2018

This book leaves me conflicted.

On one hand, the writing is very good for a legal mystery/suspense, and I say that as someone who doesn’t like this genre and rarely reads it if I can avoid it. I much prefer to read about the nonfictional kind. However, much to my surprise, that is precisely why this book shines. It’s surprisingly realistic in its portrayals of a high profile murder trial and its effects on the #1 suspect’s family. Also, it reads like of like true crime, if true crime was told from the perspective of someone very close to the case.

Unlike true crime though, we get to see the aftermath of the murder trial and we get to see how the family attempts to return to “normal” after the trial concludes. This story unfolds like most mysteries, with clueless parents asking oblivious questions about their own kid, but half-way through the book, there’s a tonal shift and it subtly becomes a thriller. The prose takes on a more intense, but smooth, feel as the story propels toward the end. The characters become so lifelike they might as well be real, and the story, much more plausible, and the aftermath, entirely believable. But in the end, we don’t get any closure. So, not unlike true crime.

On the other hand, the aftermath is entirely believable and we don’t get any closure in the end and I want to set this book on fire, grind up the ashes, and launch it into space. This is a normal reaction for me though. Whenever I finish perplexing WASP-y contemporary fiction, especially when it centers on affluent families bulldozing over the law, I want to burn the book. But this book is different, mainly because of its unexpected, very un-WASP-y ending which caught me off guard and threw me off my stride. It was entirely unexpected because I didn’t think the author would take it that far, but he did. More importantly though, it worked. The ending, while lacking any sense of closure, was a fitting end to this mess. I thought the savagery was just the right note with which to end this story. So credit to the author for taking it that far. This was a solid ending to a frustrating story that leaves you with absolutely no closure. So, not unlike true crime.

I tried reading this book the year it came out for a book club, but had to quit early because reading about little rich boys getting away with murder was not how I wanted to spend my day off. But I still wanted to know how the story ended, so I decided to set it aside for a better time. Now isn’t “a better time,” but the overall reading experience was better this time around. The story still enrages me, but somehow not as much as before.

So 4 stars objectively.

But honestly? 1 star for all the rage it inspires.

* * * * some spoilers below * * * *

And yes, the kid did it. I know the book tries to be coy and “interesting” by hinting otherwise while also giving you enough evidence to prove that he could have done it. I believe he did it simply because he’s got the means and opportunity AND because he is who he is–a rich, spoiled teenage boy who thinks he’s above it all. I didn’t even need to finish the book to know he did it.

Once might be a coincidence, maybe, but twice is a pattern, a serial-killer kind of pattern. These things are hard to overlook or explain away as unlucky circumstances when you take apart the case piece by piece. The most likely suspect is usually, if not always, the killer. Plus, you have parents who coddle and swaddle the kid well into young adolescence, and there’s no doubt in my mind they’re the kind of parents who would continue to do so well into his adulthood.

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