Pen & Globe

See You in Court!

Past month or so got you down? Want to escape from it all? Feel like getting lost in someone else’s problems bigger than your own?

William Landay’s powerful courtroom page-turner Defending Jacob might just be the cure for you.

The Case: Assistant district attorney Andy Barber heads a high-profile murder trial of a brutally slain teen-aged bully until his own 14-year-old son becomes the prime suspect for the crime.

The Verdict: I was in need of distraction from the daily news, looking for one of those nerve-plucking, gavel-pounding legal thrillers that flung John Grisham and Scott Turow to fame. While Landay’s bestseller doesn’t quite measure up to Grisham’s A Time to Kill or Turow’s Presumed Innocent – in fairness, beyond To Kill a Mockingbird, what does? – Defending Jacob comes damn close.

Landay, a former district attorney and father himself, keeps the action buzzing and suspense building by delving into both the legal machinations of a media-frenzied trial and the personal trauma of a family unraveling under the strain of such a horrible ordeal. He also provides colorful details and useful insights that could only be gleaned from someone grinding out years in court.

I came away from this, Landay’s third novel, with a better comprehension for what a grand jury does, a strong fascination with the so-called “murder gene,” and a full appreciation for the best legal advice I ever received from my own lawyer wife: keep your mouth shut. Innocent, guilty, or uncertain, when facing a badge asking you questions, demand to see your attorney and then clamp your lips.

What I enjoyed most about this story was how Landay takes a taught legal thriller and interweaves it with a tense family tragedy, producing an intricate spider web of possibilities that will have you guessing until the jury returns from final deliberations. (I kept trying to predict the outcome, kept getting it wrong…)

So, my advice to you: shut off the news (alternative, fake, or otherwise), pour yourself a well-aged single malt, fire up a fine cigar, and settle in with a good book. Whisky and stogie optional; Defending Jacob highly recommended!

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