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Defending Jacob - Book Review

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by Catherine Van Bergen (subscribe)
I'm a freelance writer who lives on the Bellarine Peninsula. I enjoy finding new things to see and do in the beautiful area that I live in.
Published April 27th 2012
How well can you truly know your own child?

Well, for me, the answer's simple, considering I don't have any children.

But this is the dilemma that is faced by Andy Barber, a District Attorney, whose teenage son is charged in the murder of fourteen-year-old Ben Rifkin.



The whole saga begins one morning when Ben's body is discovered in Cold Spring Park, a recreational area in the small town of Newton, Boston. He has three stab wounds to the chest and has only been dead for a short time.

Andy Barber is immediately called to the scene, as the second-in-command at the DA Office, and sets out to determine who killed the boy.

After several days of investigating, and with nothing to show for it except one possible lead in the form of a child molester, Andy and his team are beginning to feel intense pressure to put somebody away for this seemingly random and brutal crime.

But then interviews with some of Ben's classmates, as well as written comments on Facebook, begin to yield some results. Unfortunately, they are not welcome results, as they implicate Andy's fourteen-year-old son Jacob (who was also a classmate of the murdered teen) and lead to his arrest.


With a social stigma now attached to Jacob and his family, Andy and his wife Laurie find themselves struggling to get through the everyday. They begin to feel as though they, too, are on trial for Ben's murder, yet they stand by their son and continue to protest his innocence, despite several instances of doubt, which crop up as media pressure builds.

In a paragon of every parent's worst nightmare, Andy and Laurie are determined to get their family through this ordeal, defending Jacob in every way they can. But the question remains- how well do they really know their son? And could he truly be capable of murder?

This well-written novel truly makes you question how you would react if someone close to you were accused of doing something completely out of the ordinary- would you defend them whole-heartedly and unconditionally, or would you begin to doubt your perception of the person? This uncomfortable dilemma is made all the more disconcerting for Andy and Laurie when it is revealed that violence and murder lurks within Andy's family history, perhaps forming a precedent for Jacob, and a potentially murderous streak.

The situation is made all the more uncomfortable when Andy and Laurie learn, through Jacob's friends and through professional sources (such as a psychologist) that Jacob may harbour a coldness of character that is prevalent in people who have been convicted of murder. Indeed, stories from several of his friends shed a fresh light on some of Jacob's disturbing interests, and help to nurture those seeds of doubt.

Not only is the storyline compelling in this novel, but the way that it is written is also quite clever. The story is split across two timelines- the events leading up to and including Jacob's trial, and a court case held the following year, through which the reader learns more about what happened during the trial, as well as its aftermath. These intersecting cases work together to propel the story forward, yet there is still an element of mystery surrounding what happens in the characters' lives. The twist at the end is both shocking and captivating- I certainly never saw it coming, despite several elusive hints scattered throughout the novel.

Told from the perspective of Andy, as well as transcripts from the court case, this novel is definitely one for people who prefer courtroom drama stories, as opposed to the murder story that precedes it.

I highly recommend this novel, if not for the questions that it makes you consider, then for the intense plotline and its unusual take of a family in crisis.
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Why? To read a crime novel focused more on the trial than on the crime
When: Whenever you feel like it
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