Defending Jacob

Defending Jacob

A veteran prosecutor.
His son accused of murder.
How far will he go?

How far would you?


“The best crime-and-courtroom drama in years.”
— Stephen King


“In Defending Jacob, William Landay makes bold use of his genuine storytelling gift, his amazing ability to craft believable dialogue, and above all, an extraordinary understanding of what it means to be a husband and father to present us with the unforgettable tale of an ordinary marriage and family in crisis. In his hands, the tender, passionate union of Laurie and Andrew Barber — of anyone’s marriage, by implication — is tested by the notion that parenting is never quite what one imagines it to be. On the surface, this novel reads like a first-rate thriller, but at its heart, it’s a love story. It’s the story of a man who adores his wife and child, but more than that, it’s a novel that describes the fine edge between love and madness, and the lies we sometimes tell ourselves. Landay has proven himself to be an extraordinary writer, and Defending Jacob is an amazing novel. Do yourself a favor and read it. It’s that good.”
— Nicholas Sparks, N.Y. Times #1 bestselling author


“A novel like this comes along maybe once a decade. William Landay’s Defending Jacob is a tour de force, a full-blooded legal thriller about a murder trial and the way it shatters a family. With its relentless suspense, mesmerizing prose, and a shocking twist at the end, it’s every bit as good as Scott Turow’s great Presumed Innocent. But also something more: an indelible domestic drama that calls to mind Ordinary People and We Need to Talk About Kevin. A spellbinding and unforgettable literary crime novel.”
— Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of Buried Secrets and High Crimes


“Waiting for a new Landay novel is like waiting for a guy from Cremona to build a violin: anxious but worth it. Defending Jacob is smart, sophisticated — and suspenseful on more levels than one.”
— Lee Child, N.Y. Times #1 bestselling author


“William Landay has hit a home run. Defending Jacob is a stunning novel that will be compared to classic courtroom thrillers like Presumed Innocent and Anatomy of a Murder.”
— Phillip Margolin, N.Y. Times bestselling author


“By the time I had finished the first chapter of William Landay’s Defending Jacob I knew there was no way I would not read to the last page, and when I got there, I was not disappointed. Shaken might be a better word. Riveting, suspenseful, and emotionally searing. I thought Presumed Innocent packed a punch at the end. It was a slap compared to this.”
— Linwood Barclay, N.Y. Times bestselling author


“Nuanced understanding of the psychology of carefully considered, layered characters makes Defending Jacob more than a terrific legal thrill ride with courtroom scenes that explode off the page. William Landay’s latest is a heartfelt exploration of the unanticipated complications of loyalty among old friends, and an unflinching appraisal of the darkest, most poignant consequences of the love that binds, and blinds, families. Defending Jacob is one of those rare books that calls for contemplation and insight along with every breathtaking surprise. Read it.”
— Stephen White, N.Y. Times bestselling author


“Seamless and sensational, William Landay’s Defending Jacob is a spellbinder that draws the reader further and further into the dilemmas of its very real characters. Landay is a master weaver of suspense. This has got to be one of the best novels of the year.”
— John Lutz, New York Times bestselling author



“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.”
— Oline Cogdill, South Florida Sun-Sentinel


“In the publicity material for William Landay’s Defending Jacob, its publisher and several advance readers liken the novel to Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, arguably the finest of American legal thrillers. The hype is justified.”
— Patrick Anderson, Washington Post


“There are two types of suspense that run through Defending Jacob, a courtroom drama that hinges on the murder of a high school boy. The first comes from trying to guess who killed him. The second comes from wondering whether this book’s author, William Landay, a former district attorney with two well-received novels behind him, has developed the chops to catapult himself into the Scott Turow tier of legal-eagle blockbuster writers. The jury stays out until this book’s very last words…. Ingenious.”
— Janet Maslin, New York Times


“Landay’s two previous novels (Mission Flats, 2003, and The Strangler, 2007) were award winners, but he reaches a new level of excellence with this riveting, knock-your-socks-off legal thriller. With its masterfully crafted characterizations and dialogue, emotional depth, and frightening implications, the novel rivals the best of Scott Turow and John Grisham. Don’t miss it.”
— Booklist (starred review)


“Parental devotion and its limits lie at the heart of this gripping, emotional murder saga…. The shocking ending will have readers pulling up their bedcovers to ward off the haunting chill.”
— People Magazine


“This novel has major motion picture written all over it.”
— Hallie Ephron, Boston Globe


“Landay, a former DA, mixes gritty court reporting with Andy’s painful confrontation with himself, forcing readers willy-nilly to realize the end is never the end when, as Landay claims, the line between truth and justice has become so indistinct as to appear imaginary. This searing narrative proves the ancient Greek tragedians were right: the worst punishment is not death but living with what you — knowingly or unknowingly — have done.”
— Publishers Weekly (starred review)


“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 … 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. … With a grabby premise and careful plotting, he keeps you turning the pages through the shocking gut-punch of an ending.”
— Entertainment Weekly


“Do you like a mystery with a good twist at the end? How about one with the literary equivalent of skating’s triple axel?”
— The Oregonian


“Landay has written a legal thriller that’s comparable to classics such as Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent.”
— Associated Press


“Brilliantly plotted, with great characters and an unforgettable ending.”
— Margaret Cannon, Toronto Globe and Mail (Best Crime Novels of 2012)


Chapter 1

Mr. Logiudice: State your name, please.

Witness: Andrew Barber.

Mr. Logiudice: What do you do for work, Mr. Barber?

Witness: I was an assistant district attorney in this county for 22 years.

Mr. Logiudice: “Was.” What do you do for work now?

Witness: I suppose you’d say I’m unemployed.

In April 2008, Neal Logiudice finally subpoenaed me to appear before the grand jury. By then it was too late. Too late for his case, certainly, but also too late for Logiudice. His reputation was already damaged beyond repair, and his career along with it. A prosecutor can limp along with a damaged reputation for a while, but his colleagues will watch him like wolves and eventually he will be forced out, for the good of the pack. I have seen it many times: an ADA is irreplaceable one day, forgotten the next.

I have always had a soft spot for Neal Logiudice (pronounced la-JOO-dis). He came to the DA’s office a dozen years before this, right out of law school. He was twenty-nine then, short, with thinning hair and a little pot belly. His mouth was overstuffed with teeth; he had to force it shut, like a full suitcase, which left him with a sour, pucker-mouthed expression. I used to get after him not to make this face in front of juries — nobody likes a scold — but he did it unconsciously. He would get up in front of the jury box shaking his head and pursing his lips like a schoolmarm or a priest, and in every juror there stirred a secret desire to vote against him. Inside the office, Logiudice was a bit of an operator and a kiss-ass. He got a lot of teasing. Other ADA’s tooled on him endlessly, but he got it from everyone, even people who worked with the office at arm’s length, cops, clerks, secretaries, people who did not usually make their contempt for a prosecutor quite so obvious. They called him Milhouse, after a dweeby character on “The Simpsons,” and they came up with a thousand variations on his name: LoFoolish, LoDoofus, Sid Vicious, Judicious, on and on. But to me, Logiudice was okay. He was just innocent. With the best intentions, he smashed people’s lives and never lost a minute of sleep over it. He only went after bad guys, after all. That is the Prosecutor’s Fallacy — they are bad guys because I am prosecuting them — and Logiudice was not the first to be fooled by it, so I forgave him for being righteous. I even liked him. I rooted for him precisely because of his oddities, the unpronounceable name, the snaggled teeth — which any of his peers would have had straightened with expensive braces, paid for by Mummy and Daddy — even his naked ambition. I saw something in the guy. An air of sturdiness in the way he bore up under so much rejection, how he just took it and took it. He was obviously a working-class kid determined to get for himself what so many others had simply been handed. In that way, and only in that way, I suppose, he was just like me.

Now, a dozen years after he arrived in the office, despite all his quirks, he had made it, or nearly made it. Neal Logiudice was First Assistant, the number-two man in the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, the DA’s right hand and chief trial attorney. He took over the job from me — this kid who once said to me, “Andy, you’re exactly what I want to be someday.” I should have seen it coming.

In the grand jury room that morning, the jurors were in a sullen, defeated mood. They sat, thirty-odd men and women who had not been clever enough to find a way out of serving, all crammed into those school chairs with a teardrop-shaped desk for a chair-arm. They understood their jobs well enough by now. Grand juries serve for months, and they figure out pretty quickly what the gig is all about: accuse, point your finger, name the wicked one.

A grand jury proceeding is not a trial. There is no judge in the room and no defense lawyer. The prosecutor runs the show. It is an investigation and in theory a check on the prosecutor’s power, since the grand jury decides whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to haul a suspect into court for trial. If there is enough evidence, the grand jury grants the prosecutor an indictment, his ticket to Superior Court. If not, they return a “no bill” and the case is over before it begins. In practice, “no bill”s are rare. Most grand juries indict. Why not? They only see one side of the case.

But in this case, I suspect the jurors knew Logiudice did not have a case. Not today. The truth was not going to be found, not with evidence this stale and tainted, not after everything that had happened. It had been over a year already — over twelve months since the body of a fourteen-year-old boy was found in the woods with three stab wounds arranged in a line across the chest as if he’d been forked with a trident. But it was not the time, so much. It was everything else. Too late, and the grand jury knew it.

I knew it, too.

Only Logiudice was undeterred. He pursed his lips in that odd way of his. He reviewed his notes on a yellow legal pad, considered his next question. He was doing just what I’d  taught him. The voice in his head was mine: Never mind how weak your case is. Stick to the system. Play the game the same way it’s been played the last 500-odd years, use the same gutter tactic that has always governed cross-examination — lure, trap, fuck.

He said, “Do you recall when you first heard about the Rifkin boy’s murder?”


“Describe it.”

“I got a call, I think, first from CPAC — that’s the state police. Then two more came in right away, one from the Newton police, one from the duty DA. I may have the order wrong, but basically the phone started ringing off the hook.”

“When was this?”

“Thursday, April 12, 2007, around nine A.M., right after the body was discovered.”

“Why were you called?”

“I was the First Assistant. I was notified of every murder in the county. It was standard procedure.”

“But you did not keep every case, did you? You did not personally investigate and try every homicide that came in?”

“No, of course not. I didn’t have that kind of time. I kept very few homicides. Most I assigned to other ADA’s.”

“But this one you kept.”


“Did you decide immediately that you were going to keep it for yourself, or did you only decide that later?”

“I decided almost immediately.”

“Why? Why did you want this case in particular?”

“I had an understanding with the district attorney, Lynn Canavan: certain cases I would try personally.”

“What sort of cases?”

“High-priority cases.”

“Why you?”

“I was the senior trial lawyer in the office. She wanted to be sure that important cases were handled properly.”

“Who decided if a case was high profile?”

“Me, in the first instance. In consultation with the district attorney, of course, but things tend to move pretty fast at the beginning. There isn’t usually time for a meeting.”

“So you decided the Rifkin murder was a high-priority case?”

“Of course.”


“Because it involved the murder of a child. I think we also had an idea it might blow up, catch the media’s attention. It was that kind of case. It happened in a wealthy town, with a wealthy victim. We’d already had a few cases like that. At the beginning we did not know exactly what it was, either. In some ways it looked like a schoolhouse killing, a Columbine thing. Basically, we didn’t know what the hell it was, but it smelled like a big case. If it had turned out to be a smaller thing, I would have passed it off later, but in those first few hours I had to be sure everything was done right.”

“Did you inform the district attorney that you had a conflict of interest?”


“Why not?”

“Because I didn’t have one.”

“Wasn’t your son Jacob a classmate of the dead boy?”

“Yes, but I didn’t know the victim. Jacob didn’t know him either, as far as I was aware. I’d never even heard the dead boy’s name.”

“You did not know the kid. All right. But you did know that he and your son were in the same grade at the same middle school in the same town?”


“And you still didn’t think you were conflicted out? You didn’t think your objectivity might be called into question?”

“No. Of course not.”

“Even in hindsight? You insist, you — Even in hindsight, you still don’t feel the circumstances gave even the appearance of a conflict?”

“No, there was nothing improper about it. There was nothing even unusual about it. The fact that I lived in the town where the murder happened? That was a good thing. In smaller counties, the prosecutor often lives in the community where a crime happens, he often knows the people affected by it. So what? So he wants to catch the murderer even more? That’s not a conflict of interest. Look, the bottom line is, I have a conflict with all murderers. That’s my job. This was a horrible, horrible crime; it was my job to do something about it. I was determined to do just that.”

“Okay.” Logiudice lowered his eyes to his pad. No sense attacking the witness so early in his testimony. He would come back to this point later in the day, no doubt, when I was tired. For now, best to keep the temperature down.

“You understand your Fifth Amendment rights?”

“Of course.”

“And you have waived them?”

“Apparently. I’m here, I’m talking.”

Titters from the grand jury.

Logiudice laid down his pad, and with it he seemed to set aside his game plan for a moment. “Mr. Barber — Andy — could I just ask you something: why not invoke it? Why not remain silent?” The next sentence he left unsaid: That’s what I would do.

I thought for a moment that this was a tactic, a bit of playacting. But Logiudice seemed to mean it. He was worried I was up to something. He did not want to be tricked, to look like a fool.

I said, “I have no desire to remain silent. I want the truth to come out.”

“No matter what?”

“I believe in the system, same as you, same as everyone here.”

Now, this was not exactly true. I do not believe in the court system, at least I do not think it is especially good at finding the truth. No lawyer does. We have all seen too many mistakes, too many bad results. A jury verdict is just a guess — a well-intentioned guess, generally, but you simply cannot tell fact from fiction by taking a vote. And yet, despite all that, I do believe in the power of the ritual. I believe in the religious symbolism, the black robes, the marble-columned courthouses like Greek temples. When we hold a trial, we are saying a mass. We are praying together to do what is right and to be protected from danger, and that is worth doing whether or not our prayers are actually heard.

Of course, Logiudice did not go in for that sort of solemn bullshit. He lived in the lawyer’s binary world, guilty or not guilty, and he was determined to keep me pinned there.

“You believe in the system, do you?” he sniffed. “All right, Andy, let’s get back to it, then. We’ll let the system do its work.” He gave the jury a knowing, smart-ass look.

Attaboy, Neal. Don’t let the witness jump into bed with the jury — you jump into bed with the jury. Jump in there and snuggle right up beside them under the blanket and leave the witness out in the cold. I smirked. I would have stood up and applauded if I’d been allowed to, because I taught him to do precisely this. Why deny myself a little fatherly pride? I must not have been all bad — I turned Neal Logiudice into a half-decent lawyer after all.

“So go on already,” I said, nuzzling the jury’s neck. “Stop screwing around and get on with it, Neal.”

He gave me a look, then picked up his yellow pad again and scanned it, looking for his place. I could practically read the thought spelled out across his forehead: lure, trap, fuck. “Okay,” he said, “let’s pick it up at the aftermath of the murder.”

©2022 William Landay