How far would you go to protect your child? That's the provocative question at the heart of William Landay's gripping new thriller, Defending Jacob. Landay's sympathetic and very unreliable narrator is Andy Barber, an assistant district attorney in suburban Boston faced with a doozy of a dilemma: A 14-year-old boy named Ben Rifkin has been stabbed to death in the woods near the local school and Andy's son, Jacob, is the one who's been arrested for the crime. Jacob and Ben were eighth-grade classmates, Ben had been bullying Jacob viciously, and Jacob had recently acquired a hunting knife that he'd shown off to his best friend at school. Naturally, Andy and his wife, Laurie, knew none of this. (Jacob's a bit shy, they think, not a social pariah.)
Andy, who is suspended from his job after Jacob is implicated in the crime, knows all too well how the legal process can railroad the innocent with inconvenient facts. So when he finds Jacob's knife before the cops do, he gets rid of it acting as a father rather than an officer of the law. But no decision is without consequences.
Like John Grisham and Scott Turow, Landay is a lawyer with a solid grasp of how to use courtroom scenes to advance his jigsaw-puzzle story. Also like Grisham and Turow, his prose can be workmanlike and his dialogue pedestrian (Jacob and his peers sound like no teens you've ever met). But with a grabby premise and careful plotting, he keeps you turning the pages through the shocking gut-punch of an ending. B+