Read by Grover Gardner
Length: 11 Hrs 40 Min
Genre: Legal Thriller
Quick Thoughts: Defending Jacob made my courtroom thriller loving heart sing for joy, a well written, deftly plotted legal tale that was full of hidden depths. Fans of crime fiction, even if not particularly legal thriller fans, should not miss this utterly enthralling novel.
Maybe I’m the only one, but for some reason I think it’s sort of weird that my two favorite subgenres of fiction are Post Apocalyptic Scifi, and courtroom thrillers. I mean, shouldn’t your favorites of anything be sort of similar? To me, that would be like saying my favorite two flavors of ice cream are mango and battery acid. Yet, it’s the truth. For years, those are the two types of novels I loved. As a teenager I would rotate between reading The Stand, or Swan Song, with novels by Scott Turow or John Grisham. In high school the two novels that I reread the most were The Stand and Phillip Freedman’s Inadmissible Evidence. When asked what career I aspired to be, my typical answer was lawyer, mostly because when I answered Apocalyptic Road Warrior adults tended to frown at me. Yet, I feel that after the big Grisham boon, legal thrillers, particularly actual courtroom thrillers, took a down turn. Sure, there were occasional decent novels from people like Paul Levine, William Bernhardt and others, but I felt a lot of the established legal thriller writers moved away from solid courtroom tales, and branched into other thriller subgenres. At the same time, Post apocalyptic novels were starting their resurgence, and I slowly moved away from the mystery/suspense genre and science fiction and fantasy titles started dominating my reading. Yet, I am making a prediction. With series like Connelly’s Mickey Haller series, and a few standout standalones, courtroom thrillers are about to make a resurgence. Especially, with the budding scientific and behavioral advances about to force our legal system to adapt, or become shamelessly ill prepared, legal fiction may be the perfect medium to highlight the social changes of our rapidly changing world.
The latest stellar legal thriller to tackle such an idea is William Landay’s Defending Jacob. Defending Jacob centers on a father’s worst nightmare, to find his 14 tear old son charged with the murder of a classmate. Landay’s main character, Andy Barber, is an assistant DA and investigating a brutal murder of a 14 year old boy when his son is arrested. Barber is a well conceived character with a fascinating secret that colors much of the book in interesting ways. Andy’s secret, which he withheld from himself as much as from his family, is that he comes from a long line of brutal violent men. In fact, he may just have what laymen call the murder gene. Defending Jacob is a fascinating look at the legal process, and how it changes everyone involved. Landay doesn’t just take us through the legal maneuverings, but also gives us a view into a family attempting to maintain an air of normalcy in a town where everyone thinks their son is a murderer, and trying to deal with the specter of the upcoming trial hanging over them. Landay deftly guides us through the plot, offering some very memorable scenes, from Andy’s first meeting with a father he’s tried to forget, to a particularly chilling scene where Andy and his wife lay in bed discussing a strange noise outside their house. There is so much depth to this tale, so much intricate plotting that even the predictable moments are filled with shocking undercurrents. My only true complain was the heavy handed foreshadowing used by the author throughout the book, lines like "it was a good day in court, but it would be our last" acted almost like author endorsed spoilers. Yet, even the foreshadowing, as I now look back on the novel, gave greater impact to the ending of the novel which was brilliant and devastating. Defending Jacob made my courtroom thriller loving heart sing for joy, a well written, deftly plotted legal tale that was full of hidden depths. Fans of crime fiction, even if not particularly legal thriller fans, should not miss this utterly enthralling novel.
Every time I listen to a Grover Gardner narration, I feel like I have been tricked. Gardner has this wonderful voice that is just suited for first person narratives. He almost sounds like your favorite uncle, the one who always has the best stories to tell you. You become so used to his voice, one that has a unique quality to it, that, especially in first person tales, it takes you a while to realize just how well he is voicing the peripheral characters. You expect to hear his normal narrative tones saturate all the other characters, but in fact, they don’t. He truly finds authentic voices for those other characters. In Defending Jacob, I was happily listening, engrossed in a the story, Gardner allowing the words to push the narrative, when there was a scene between Andy and his father, and I realized just how authentic it sounded. I think one of the hardest things for a narrator to do is have authentic sounding dialogue between two characters, and here it was like I was listening to a masters class on how to do it. Maybe I am being overly effusive, but, when I first heard Grover Gardner would be narrating The Stand, I wondered how he would handle all those characters. Characters that have become iconic to me. When I think of Grover Gardner, I always think of his voice and not his voices. Defending Jacob was just so well narrated, it only made me more excited when I remembered Gardner would be narrating my all time favorite novel.
Note: A special thanks to the wonderful people at Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.