A riveting story you won’t soon forget

This is a murder story with a difference. The narrator, Andrew Barber, is the assistant district attorney of Middlesex County so he knows about the murder from its discovery.

Defending Jacob

By William Landay

A Feb. Paperback $9.99)

This is a murder story with a difference. The narrator, Andrew Barber, is the assistant district attorney of Middlesex County so he knows about the murder from its discovery.

The body of 14-year-old Ben Rifkin, a student, is found in Cold Spring Park, on a path that leads to the McCormick Middle School. He died of stab wounds, three evenly spaced punctures across his chest, although he did not die right away.

The route across the park that leads to the school is one travelled by many students. Jacob Barber is the son of Andrew Barber, and he had walked that very route on that day. So had many others.

Andrew Barber can decide to take the case or not. It could be handed to one of his assistants, but he feels that the murderer must be found quickly for his neighbourhood to feel safe again. So he goes to work.

Is he in a conflict of interest? The murdered boy and Jacob Barber attended the same school, but as far as Jacob’s father knows they were not friends, and he’s right. They are not.

Teenagers use technology to communicate, they Facebook and text constantly. The first thing confiscated from a suspect is his or her computer. So Andrew Barber takes to the Internet.

Adults are innocent in some ways. The communications Andrew discovers are shockingly unguarded and nasty. There are love notes to the dead boy, and there is bullying and name calling. One message says, “Jake, everyone knows you did it. You have a knife. I’ve seen it.” The message was signed by one of Jacob’s friends.

District attorney Barber searches his son’s room and finds a knife, “it is ten inches long, with a serrated cutting edge, and it came to a lethal gothic point.” He took the knife outside and threw it away in a dumpster.

The police round up people known to them, among them Leonard Patz, a known pedophile. He was in the park that morning, as were many others. He protests and claims to be innocent.

Time goes on and no new leads appear, and Andrew is relieved of his duties as DA.

It is discovered that Andrew’s father is a lifer, in for murder, and with Jacob charged, the term “murder gene” is bandied about.

The Barbers, the Rifkins and all of their friends live a life of upper middle class affluence. The young people have all the clothes, sports, toys and technology available. When parents are obliged to examine whether they really know their children, and their children’s friends, the unthinkable becomes a nightmare.

Andrew is obliged to visit his father in jail. This is a man whose existence he has always denied. His father is nasty in every way.

Suddenly there is an unbelievable break and Jacob is cleared. A holiday is planned, but we are far from a happy ending. This is a tough, riveting story, one you will not soon forget.

Peggy Freeman is a local freelance books reviewer.

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