Defending Jacob
By William Landay
Delacorte Press ($26)

Scott Turow’s 1987 “Presumed Innocent” was a watershed for the legal thriller, delivering what started out as a typical plot that evolved into a tense look at the law, ethics and revenge, as it moved to a jaw-dropping finale.

Readers will have the same reaction to William Landay’s superb “Defending Jacob,” which begins as a typical legal thriller then matures into a suspense-laden insider’s view of the law, ethics and familial bonds. And, yes, the end is one of those shocking twists that is as believable as it is surprising.

Andy Barber lives for his family — his psychologist wife, Laurie, and their 14-year-old son, Jacob — and the law, as the first assistant district attorney in Newton, Mass. But both aspects of his life come crashing down when Jacob is arrested for the murder of his classmate. Andy refuses to believe that his quiet son could be a killer, insisting that the culprit is a local child molester. Andy firmly believes in his child, but also fears that Jacob may have inherited a family background that he’s kept secret “like a hideous stone inside a peach” — Andy’s father and grandfather were killers.

During Jacob’s trial, the family becomes a pariah in town with Andy and Laurie’s careers in tatters; their marriage frays. While they learn that “damage hardens us all,” they also find that there are “wounds worse than fatal.”

Landay intersects the past and the present with aplomb as Andy grapples with who he is as well as who his child is. Andy is stunned to learn, through social media, how little he knows Jacob, whose psychologist says the teenager has a “heart two sizes too small.” But a lack of empathy doesn’t mean Jacob is a killer.

“Defending Jacob” soars as Landay’s rich plot weaves in parenting skills, unconditional love and the law.

Landay’s previous award-winning two novels, “Mission Flats” and “The Strangler,” established his talent; “Defending Jacob” shows how breathtaking Landay’s storytelling is.

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