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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

"Defending Jacob" by William Landay~ Best Legal Suspense You'll Read This Year!

Published by:  Delacorte Press/Random House
Pages: 421
Genre:  Fiction/Suspense
New Release

Cover Rating :
A serious cover that indicates this is really a legal novel.  Letters on the cover are raised. This is an expensive cover. The large fingerprint is a good visual. Good image: slightly faded title that's indicative of legal manila folders when they're used long-term in trials. The cloudy skys over the apparently "everytown" affluent center are forboding.  I like the silver-toned metallic cover and the blue-colored author's name which gives the subconscious message of police involvement.  Small dark figure on the path is probably unnecessary.  All together, a cover that denotes a legal thriller, making me want to know more.  Rating:  A+

About the Author:

The prosecutor's life is excellent on-the-job training for the writer's trade, novelist William Landay found. That, plus a fascination with his native Boston, provided much of what he needed to tell his kind of story

William Landay is the author of the novels Mission Flats and The Strangler. The first won the Dagger Award as best debut crime novel. The second was nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award as best crime novel of the year. His third novel, Defending Jacob, will be published January 31, 2012.

Here's An Interview With Mr. Landy:

Hello, Bill. Welcome to A Bookish Libraria! I’m so delighted you’ve agreed to allow us to get to know you and your book better through an interview.
Thank you. Happy to be here.
1) First of all, please tell us a special something about what makes you "tick." When you aren’t writing, what are you doing?
The short answer is: I have two young kids, boys aged 8 and 10. So when I’m not working, I’m generally tending to them in one way or another — driving them around, watching them play soccer or basketball, begging them to brush their teeth or pick up their dirty clothes or do their homework or stop bashing each other over the head.
In the little time that remains, I do have other interests. I love sports, as all Bostonians seem to. I love books and movies, as all writers seem to. Music, too, everything from rock to old blues, soul and jazz, though I’m no expert on any of these. I’m a bit of an insomniac and I tend to stay up late. I am interested in computers and technology, and art, photography, and design. I used to be a bartender, and I still like mixing cocktails for guests. That’s a pretty random list, I suppose.
As for a "special something," well, I’m not sure how special it is, but there’s this: I do the New York Times crossword puzzle every day. I’m not especially fast, but I have a stubborn, dogged personality, so I don’t give up. Which means that, on Friday and Saturday, when the crossword can be a bear, I sometimes get stuck trying to solve it even as my wife and kids move on with their day. I simply can’t pry myself away from a half-finished puzzle. Or a half-finished novel — but that’s a bigger problem. 
2) You chose a specific genre, a place and time to write about, what made you choose it?
Before turning to writing, I was an assistant D.A. — that is, a courtroom prosecutor — and my primary interest as a writer has always been in the human drama of crime stories. My first two novels were set squarely in the world of street crime. They are peopled with cops and criminals. All of which resulted in me being labeled a "crime writer."
The term never really fit. I always thought I was writing novels that happened to involve crime, rather than "crime novels." In any case, as time went on — I have been writing full-time about ten years now — my life became more about kids and family. I haven’t been in a courtroom in years. Nowadays I’m more likely to be watching a Saturday soccer game or a concert by the 5th grade chorus. So it was natural that I would want to combine these two strands in my life, the criminal justice system and the quieter life of raising kids in the suburbs. The result was Defending Jacob, a novel about a prosecutor and suburban Everydad whose son is accused of a murder. 
3) Please share with your readers where you like to write. Do you have a particular space or desk? What can you see from your desk? Do you have props you use to write from? What about special "charms?"
I do have a home office, but I don’t use it much. I have a hard time concentrating there. There are so many distractions at home: laundry to be folded, dishes to be washed, the Internet. It’s endless. Writing requires an extraordinary level of focus. It is not one of those jobs where, as Woody Allen said, "80% of success is just showing up." It requires deep focus, and I have better luck getting into "the zone" when I leave the house every morning like everyone else.
Like a lot of other writers, I like to work in coffee shops. The background noise there always forces me to concentrate. Also, working in public means that if I procrastinate — as I tend to do — someone will be there to witness it. It is helpful to feel watched, even if in reality most of the people in Starbucks aren’t interested in what some guy hunched over a laptop is doing over in the corner for hours on end.
I also work in libraries a lot. I live in Boston, which is blessed with two extraordinary libraries, the Boston Public Library and the Boston Athenaeum. The first is one of the finest public libraries in the country; the second is one of America’s oldest and most prestigious private libraries. Both are housed in architectural landmark buildings. It is inspiring just to walk into those places. For some reason I find it comforting, too, to be surrounded by the tens of thousands of books these libraries hold. The endless shelves don’t intimidate me ("Look at all these books? Who needs yours? It will be forgotten immediately!"). Quite the opposite, they take the pressure off ("Don’t be such a perfectionist! Just think of all the awful books that have come before you and been published anyway!").
For the record, I am sitting quite happily in the Boston Athenaeum as I write this.
4) In your opinion, what makes a novel a great one?
That is a very complex question. There are so many ways a novel can be "great." Let’s assume that by "great," you mean "enduring," books that stand the test of time.
If that is the measure of greatness, then we have to keep in mind that the current division between popular and "literary" fiction is a relatively recent phenomenon. A lot of our most respected highbrow authors were celebrities and bestsellers in their own lifetimes: Dickens, Twain, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, to some extent Mailer. For me, the highpoint had to be when Marilyn Monroe married Arthur Miller, the greatest starlet-and-dork couple in history, until Julia Roberts hooked up with Lyle Lovett.
The celebrity writer is now pretty much an extinct species. When writers enter the mainstream today, invariably they are genre or children’s writers, J.K. Rowling being the supreme example, or writers whose books have been made into movies.
As a result, today’s so-called "literary" novelists no longer even try for the mainstream. They simply do not consider their books popular entertainment. (The same high-low schism does not exist in TV, by the way, our most democratic art form. A smart series like "Mad Men" can be aimed both high and low. It can be wildly popular among mainstream audiences and highbrow critics alike.) Let’s be honest: a lot of our most admired literary books today aren’t much fun to read. They sneer at plot. They don’t bother to carpenter together a suspenseful story. Instead they offer lovely prose and exquisite explorations of their characters’ interior lives — and those are wonderful things. At the same time, plot matters. Story matters. I think a book cannot really be great — it cannot touch people’s hearts in the way our most beloved classics do — unless it has a powerful story, unless it works as drama. Novels are no different from any other dramatic form: their first obligation is to entertain. 
5) Which author(s) most influenced your love of books from childhood?
Lots. Let’s see: Fitzgerald for his romantic sensibility and his beautiful prose. Hemingway for fiber — as an antidote to all that romantic sensibility and beautiful prose. I loved Somerset Maugham for his worldliness, especially "The Razor’s Edge" and "The Moon and Sixpence." Graham Greene for the same reason, particularly "The End of the Affair." John le Carre' especially "A Perfect Spy." I liked thrillers, too. When I was little I had a collection called "Great Tales of Action and Adventure." It was a paperback that had stories like "The Most Dangerous Game" and "Leinengen Versus the Ants," and I read that one over and over.
But I was not a great reader, honestly. I wasn’t one of those kids who constantly had his nose in a book. That is probably why I put so much emphasis on plot and storytelling. I still need a good story to keep me interested, to this day. 
6) Read any good books in the past 6 months?
Adam Johnson’s "The Orphan Master’s Son" just blew me away. One of the great privileges of being a writer is you get to read advance copies of new books, so I read Johnson’s book a few months ago. I’ve been raving about it ever since. The book is everywhere at the moment, so I won’t bother to recap it for you here. Suffice it to say: read it. You won’t be sorry.  I'm scheduled to read that one, too.  Thanks for the recommendation! 
7) Please share with us the underlying message of Defending Jacob. What would you like your readers to take away after having read the book?
Oh my, the "underlying message"? Has any writer ever given you a straight answer to that question?
I like to think "Defending Jacob" — and any other book worth talking about — does not have a single message, underlying or otherwise. Or maybe it’s better to say, the best books have lots and lots of messages.
I will say this: readers are likely to come away from the novel with a new appreciation for their families. "Defending Jacob" recounts an ordinary family’s gradual disintegration under the unfathomable pressure of a murder charge against their 14-year-old son. For anyone with a family — which means all of us — that is not an easy thing to watch. All of the people around us, all our friendships and relationships, these are very fragile things. Appreciate the people around you. Take care of them. You wouldn’t want to imagine your life without them.    In answer to your question, yes, authors do give me a straight answer to that...so did you!  LOL
8) Were you able to keep your original title? What was it, if not?
Titles are so difficult. The original title for "Defending Jacob" was "Blood Guilty," which seemed impossibly clever to me at the time, with its double meaning of "guilty of bloodshed" and "guilty by inheritance." (A big piece of the book is the idea that violence may be, to some extent, a heritable trait — that people can inherit a genetic predisposition to violence the same way we can inherit athletic talent or blue eyes or anything else.) But "Blood Guilty" suggested a different kind of book — a bloodier one. Despite the subject matter, Defending Jacob does not include much violence.
I can’t even remember how many titles we churned through along the way. It seems every time I sent the book to my editor, it had a different title. At one point, my editor canvassed all the staff at Random House who had read early drafts of the book. She asked them for title suggestions. What I got back was a list of over 100 suggestions, which was, as you might imagine, less than helpful.
In the end, it was my editor who resolved the problem. As I was laboring to finish the last rewrite of the manuscript, she said, "I have the title, but I’m not going to share it with you until you hand in the manuscript." When I finally slogged my way to the end, she revealed it: "Defending Jacob," which had actually been an early candidate. I took it, not because it was the perfect, inevitable title, but because I was so damn tired of thinking about the whole thing. My reaction was not "That’s it!" It was more like "Whatever." But now that I’ve lived with it awhile, I love it. 
9) If you could write your book again, what would you change?Nothing. Not because the book is perfect — it certainly is not — but because it’s unhealthy for a writer to think that way. You can never go back. A novel is a performance. It is a product and a record of the particular time and place where the novelist is when he writes it. Inevitably a passage will reflect the moods and preoccupations of the particular day when it was written. Already, less than a year later, I am a different person. If I wrote "Defending Jacob" again today, no doubt it would be a different book.
It would not necessarily be a better book, either. I do not feel that with every book I am getting any better. Maybe I am, but I don’t feel that way. I have never walked away from finishing a novel with the sense that "Ah, I learned so much from writing that novel, the next one will be even better." In my experience, I feel like an absolute beginner every time I start a book. The challenge seems utterly overwhelming every time.
There is one sense in which I wonder about this "moment in time" aspect of the writing life. I came to writing late. I was 30 before I started writing any fiction at all, and I was 38 by the time I had a book accepted for publication. So I never wrote a book as a young man. There is no record of my angst-ridden, awkward teenage self. No bildungsroman. That is most assuredly no loss to literature. But to me, when I think about each of my novels as a snapshot of my thinking during the year or two of its writing, I sometimes wish I could hear the voice of my teenage self, just to recall what life felt like back then. 
10) Tell us a secret about your book we wouldn’t otherwise know, please!
Well, I have always made a point of announcing that my own two boys have absolutely nothing to do with Jacob Barber, the boy accused of murder in my novel. When you write in the first person as the father of a boy like Jacob, people naturally identify the author with the character. Understandable, but wrong.
With that said, I do live in a Boston suburb called Newton, where the murder takes place. There is indeed a local park called Cold Spring Park, depicted as the murder scene in "Defending Jacob." And my own home is suspiciously similar to the Barbers’ house.

Thank you for spending time on this interview, Bill, it was fascinating getting some inside information about you and "Defending Jacob."
Thank you.

The Dame's Review :
In short, this is an out-of-the-park hit, best-seller.  While it's a great  legal suspense/courtroom drama novel; believe me, it's so much more. Without hesitation I tell you, it is a book I was mesmerized by from the first paragraphs.  If ever there was a book that should have Hollywood falling all over itself for movie rights, "Defending Jacob" is the one!

William Landy is a brilliant author of the most talented kind. I found myself nodding my head on many occasions in affirmation as his dialog rang true to my own experiences of: teen-aged boys, Facebook encounters, husband and wife relationships, the legal system, false friends and psychiatry.  Every chapter seemed to pack a punch to the solar plexis.  Every epiphany his main protagonist, Andy Barber, had hit me with equal impact.  I rode in tandem with Mr. Landy's characters feeling their angst and their isolation, their frustrations and their over-whelming love and concern for a child in a seemingly no-win situation.

My skills fail me in conveying to you the depth of expression and fine writing quality of this author.  It's obvious he's been around legal circles. It is exciting to read his book. He ignites your minds-eye.  The story could have come off the headlines, but the psychological horrors Mr. Landy details that Jacob's parents go through are raw and real. It's terrifying because the senario could happen to any of us. 

Without giving away any of the particulars, this novel with startle and leave you blind-sided on many counts. That's the mark of a fantastic suspense/thriller for me! 

I hope everyone who reads my blog will understand how exceptional and exciting "Defending Jacob" truly is.  I believe it will be a landmark book this year. Bill Landy is a writer who is, frankly, better than John Grisham and others in this genre. 

5 shooting stars


*I was given an advanced reader's copy for an honest opinion of the book.

*This review was supported by Pump Up Your Books book tours.


Carol R

Hi Deb
Great review. After working for over 30 years in the law and being a great fan of John Grisham's earlier work, I can't wait to read this book. Will it be available as a Kindle book. In fact will it be released in the UK in any form? I hope you are well?
Hugs Carol


I'm not sure about the UK, Carol. It will be released in Kindle form, I'm sure. Thanks for your comment! It's a book not to be missed.

Jennifer | Mrs Q Book Addict

I don't read a lot of suspense novels, but I really want to read this one.


This book has been getting fantastic reviews! I can't wait to read it.


Wow! Thanks for the fabulous review of William Landay's latest book. Having read it, I agree with everything you said. I don't get a chance to read all my clients' books, but I read this one and I loved it from beginning to end.

I'll see if I can get news on if a UK release is planned for Carol.

Thanks again for the great review.



There is obviously a bunch to know about this. I suppose you made certain nice points in features also.
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It is 3:00 a.m. and I just finished "Defending Jacob." I tried to stop reading two hours ago but couldn't. This is one of the best novels I have read in my 87 years of reading a wide variety of literature. But oh, those final pages.....

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