Andy Barber is the First Assistant DA, aka the second in command with the District Attorney, so he’s used to investigating tough crimes. When a teenage boy, Ben Rifkin, is murdered in the suburb he and his family live in, Andy is saddened but confident he will be able to get to the bottom of what happened. Andy is caught completely off guard, however, when his son, Jacob, is accused of murdering Ben. Andy is sure his son didn’t do it and looks for answers to what really happened when everyone else feels they’ve already found their man. Did Jacob really murder Ben or is he being wrongly accused?
This had the potential to be a run-of-the-mill murder mystery, but I had seen it on several “best” lists last year, so I decided to give it a shot. Man, am I glad I did because this book is fantastic. First of all, making Andy the narrator was brilliant because everything is filtered both as a prosecutor and as a father. Andy is a fairly unreliable narrator, but not in the traditional way – with a big twist, but simply because he straddles both sides: he fights for the right thing but he is also Jacob’s father. Is Jacob truly innocent or is Andy blinded by fatherly love? Landay presents you with all the facts, but he doesn’t spell out every twist and turn and lets the readers make up their own minds about the events. Is Jacob truly guilty or was he the victim of bad circumstances? I have a definite opinion, but the great part about this book is that I think a case could be made for either side.
Another part I always appreciate is when the legal side of the book is done well. Some writers tend to go flashy and exaggerate these cases to make the story exciting, others are too literal and get bogged down in minutia. Landay hits the sweet spot in the middle, perfectly capturing the often drab interiors of courthouses and police facilities, as well as often slow and beaurocratic processes involved in the actual investigations. He does all this while still keeping our interest in the case, parceling out details and keeping us guessing.
The other very excellent part of this book (seriously, it’s all excellent) is the dynamic of Andy’s home life with himself, his wife Laurie, and Jacob. Laurie loves her family but is more emotional, where Andy is definitely the pragmatic one, and they go back and forth about what the facts of the case mean. Jacob himself is also very interesting – is his detached behavior just him being a typical teenage boy, or does it belie something worse? There’s also some background with Andy’s family that adds another angle to the story.
All in all, I can’t recommend this book enough. It’s engaging, smartly written, and suspenseful ‘til the very end.