About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Defending Jacob by William Landay

Defending Jacob by William Landay – Andy, Laurie and Jacob Barber live in Newton, Massachusetts just outside Boston. Andy is the top Assistant District Attorney in the city. Laurie is a former school teacher. Jacob is their 14 year old son. They are a conventional American middle class family. After Ben Rifkin, a classmate of Jacob, is stabbed to death they will long for a return to an average routine life. 

Andy takes on the Rifkin murder as usual in his 1st ADA position. It is not a wise decision. With his son attending school with the victim and Andy personally knowing the Rifkin family he should have stepped back. 

Initially there is no suspect. Though the murder happened in a public park just before 8:30 in the morning there are no eye witnesses and the forensic evidence is limited.

Andy wants to focus on Leonard Patz, a local pedophile, though Patz has never been violent in encounters with boys. Andy wonders:

I studied the mug shot. I had a feeling about Patz right from the start. Of course, I was desperate – I wanted to feel that feeling, I badly needed a suspect, I needed to produce something finally – so I distrusted my suspicion. But I could not ignore it all together. You have to follow your intuition.”

His concentration on Patz appears intended to draw attention away from Jacob when evidence is found directly implicating Jacob.

Jacob’s fingerprint is found in blood on Rifkin’s clothing and a friend of Jacob, Derek Yoo, posts on social media that Jacob has a knife.

Jacob is swiftly indicted and the Barber family is thrust into the agony of defending Jacob in a highly public American murder case.

Overnight Andy moves from highly respected ADA to the tainted father of a murder suspect. He does not handle the transformation well. He has spent his life prosecuting “scumbags”. Now his son is the accused.

Every legal tactic and stratagem will be used in the defence of Jacob:

Most of the judges in Cambridge had the same reputation: soft, unrealistic, liberal. Now it seemed perfectly appropriate to load the dice that way. A liberal, it turns out, is a conservative who’s been indicted.

I love the last sentence. It reflects many conservatives I have known.

The family hires Jonathan Klein, a solid well prepared realistic defence counsel, who will guide them through the case.

Neal Logiudice, 2nd ADA, whose ambitions range far beyond replacing Andy as 1st ADA, is assigned the prosecution. Logiudice is competent but far too personal in his prosecution.

Andy, knowing his family’s life will be laid bare, shocks Laurie and Jacob with revelations concerning Andy’s father.

As the case proceeds there is an ambiguity concerning Jacob that reminded me of the uncertainty with regard to Rusty Sabich in Presumed Innocent and Innocent by Scott Turow. Landay does not provide the reader with the easy certainty of guilt or innocence. Readers are left to weigh the evidence.

It is a thoughtful book that was an uncomfortable for book for me both as a lawyer who is a parent and as a defence lawyer.

Having raised two sons, reading of parents coping with a son charged with a major crime, reminded me of every father’s secret fears that his teenage boys will get in trouble. I am grateful my sons have done well in life. For a lawyer parent there is a special discomfort as every trial lawyer sees young people who have committed crimes their parents cannot fathom.

As a defence counsel there is a heavier burden to defending teenagers. Families are closely involved in the cases. A life future is at stake.

I was glad I read the book. I cannot say I enjoyed a book that made me so uncomfortable. I regretted the ending. It veered away from the challenging conclusions of Turow’s books. I will read Landay again. (Apr. 27/14)


  1. I have this book on my TBR shelf for quite some time, Bill. Maybe it's time to take the dust off.

    1. Jose Ignacio: Thanks for the comment. I believe you will be glad once you have dusted it off.

  2. I don't think I have come across this, but it sounds like a good read, though as you say not a wholly comfortable one. Those of us with children can sometimes use books as a way to live through our fears and dreads for them.... Thanks for a thoughtful review, as ever, Bill.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I like your sentence on living through our fears and dreads by reading fiction.

  3. Bill - This is one of those books that make you think, isn't it? It raises all sorts of questions and it really does make one wonder 'how would I react if this were my family?' As you say, it's not an easy book that one reads because it's enjoyable, etc.. But it's thought-provoking.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I was left thinking long into more than one night reading this book.

  4. I enjoyed your review, Bill. I have heard of the book and read reviews, and still not sure if I want to read it. As has been said, too uncomfortable a subject. Although you certainly make a very good case for reading it.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. I wondered, once I had started, if I wanted to finish the book. I was glad I did complete the book.