DEFENDING JACOB is what publishers call a “lead title,” which basically means they’re putting a whole bunch of effort into promoting the book. At Bouchercon in St. Louis, you couldn’t spit without hitting a copy (not that I was spitting). Lots of respectable authors, including Joe Finder and Linwood Barclay, have called the book variations of one of the best they’ve read. There’s not a book blogger on the planet who didn’t get at least one advance copy (I ended up with two).
DEFENDING JACOB is a solid legal thriller. The story concerns a respected assistant district attorney, Andy Barber, whose world is turned inside out and upside down when his son Jacob’s 14 year-old classmate is murdered and Jacob is accused of the crime. Hence the title. Get it? Defending Jacob?
When I started reading DEFENDING JACOB, I thought it might be worthy of all the hoopla. I really enjoyed the first 100-ish pages, which are close to and in the tradition of John Grisham (whose early books, especially A TIME TO KILL, I adore) and Scott Turow (I dug PRESUMED INNOCENT, his other books, not so much). It is a strong story, one to which most readers will be able to relate on some level. As I continued reading, though, I had two problems with the book.
First, I didn’t like the characters. Not a one of them. I found them melodramatic and overwrought, and not sympathetic in a manner to which I could relate. Barber lives in a posh Boston suburb and nothing about it or its inhabitants appealed to me. Jacob’s mom is alternately delusional and desperate. And Andy? Well, I just wanted to yell at him to remove his head from his rear end for three-quarters of the book.
But wait…if I cared enough to want to yell at him, I must have found something redeeming in the character, right? Yeah, I guess. That, or I just wanted to like the book more than I did because so many people I respect really enjoyed it. Barber is just kind of a milquetoast, and when he gets passionate or scared, it rings slightly hollow because of this. I wanted a hook other than his being a devoted dad to like him. Maybe he should have had a dog or something (I’m kidding).
And my other problem? That was the fact that I figured out the ending way too early, so I wasn’t surprised at all. Now, this could have been a function of my being lucky or could have something to do with the fact that I’ve read a lot of legal thrillers.
I’m looking forward to reading more reviews of DEFENDING JACOB because I’m pretty sure my reaction to it won’t end up being typical. My best advice is that if you enjoy legal thrillers and/or any of the variations of “Law & Order,” you’ll likely enjoy DEFENDING JACOB.
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