Defending Jacob is an excellent courtroom drama and murder mystery. The details of the court case will totally capture your interest, and at times you will believe the characters are real and want to scream at the lawyers because of the way they manipulate the facts, witnesses and the jury.
How far would a parent go to protect a child accused of murder? Would parents actually suspect their own child? Could they believe their child was capable of such an act? Would friends remain loyal after such an accusation? How does a family survive the isolation and humiliation of the trial and all it encompasses?
Anyone who reads this book will be left with the thought, what would I have done, how would I cope in each of the situations, with my friends if their child was accused, with my son and my spouse if my child were accused? Could I hold up under such embarrassing scrutiny and stress?
This story takes place in Newton, a bedroom community of Boston. It begins in a Grand Jury courtroom as Mr. Andrew Barber, a former District Attorney, is on the stand being examined by a fellow lawyer regarding his son’s murder charge. It then seems to proceed backwards in time, to the trial of his son, Jacob, for the murder of a teenage bully, Ben Rifkin. Throughout the novel, interspersed with the dialogue, there are vignettes from the Grand Jury hearing to fill in missing pieces of the story. You are there with the accused and almost feel like a jury member yourself, listening to the facts as they are told, wondering about Jacob’s guilt or innocence, judging the performances of the lawyers and the innuendos about the accused.
Jacob might be described as a sullen boy, not social, a geek, emotionally immature, outside the social strata of the mainstream high school student. His reactions are not quite right, not what one would expect, in certain circumstances. When he is implicated in the murder of a fellow student, the story explodes into the public eye. His innocence is never really a factor; his guilt is all anyone ever envisions. Jacob’s demeanor makes people believe he could have done it, and circumstantial evidence points in his direction. All the details of his and his family's life are examined and made public.
Did the investigators properly investigate the case, looking for all suspects, or did they simply aim at Jacob, disregarding other evidence in order to solve the crime expeditiously because of its horrific nature? He is emotionally immature. His ancestors have committed crimes of horrific violence. Is there, therefore, a murder gene or a propensity to commit violent crimes?
Friends can make incriminating statements about the accused that would seem innocent in other circumstances. The problem of putting anything on the internet, which becomes public as soon as you are under suspicion, is really illuminated. There is no place to hide if you have implicated yourself on any of the public social sites. Any stupid thing you may have done will cast suspicion upon you because if you are the accused, the benefit of the doubt seems to disappear and is given to your accuser. Every thing you do will be examined six ways to Sunday in the media, by those looking to make a headline and a name for themselves; what happens to you and your family, in the event of your innocence, is immaterial to them. You and your family will be tormented and no one will care. The Barbers had been respected members of the community, yet they fell from grace immediately.
The novel shows how easy it is for the prosecutor and the defense attorney to skew the evidence in their favor. The court system and investigatory methods are subject to so much corruption. Evidence that might help the defendant is hidden, just to prove a point and win the case, even when that evidence might shed light on the truth. Winning is the main goal.
This novel expertly examines the dynamic of family interaction, social relationships, marriage, genetic background, the psychology of motive and crime, the influence of circumstantial evidence, the damage an inference can cause, the playacting and manipulation on the part of lawyers, and it exposes the strain a tragic event puts on love and friendship.
The author has fully developed his characters, exposing their flaws and their strengths. He exposes the corruption in our legal system: the dog eat dog world of the DA’s office, the motivation of politics which further corrupts the system, the danger of a media out of control, the difficulty of determining the truth. The novel feels so true to life that you can imagine it really happening. The ending, is totally unexpected so don’t peek!