It’s been nearly a year since Defending Jacob, William Landay’s third novel, was published—but this chilling psychological thriller doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. After months on the New York Times bestseller list, it recently came in at a whopping #3 on our Readers’ Choice list of the Best Books of 2012. (There’s also a movie in the works from Warner Brothers.)
Like John Grisham and Scott Turow, Landay is a former attorney who turned to writing crime fiction. Also like those superstars, he is adept at crafting an irresistibly suspenseful tale. Defending Jacob is about an assistant D.A. in an affluent suburban Massachusetts town whose life is completely turned upside down when his 14-year-old son is accused of murder. So what does he do next? The father sets out to defend his own son in court.
If you are one of the many readers who got hooked on Defending Jacob, I hope you’ll enjoy these suggestions for what to read next.
Afterwards by Rosamund Lupton. Novels like Defending Jacob are so compelling, in part, because they make us think about how life can irrevocably change in a single moment. In Lupton’s second novel (after 2011′s Sister), that moment is the outbreak of a fire at an elementary school—where Grace’s son is enrolled as a student and her teenage daughter works as a teaching assistant. Was it arson? And how are Grace’s children involved? Like Defending Jacob, this is a family-centered thriller that focuses on the great lengths a parent will go to protect his or her child.
Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. It may initially seem that a thriller and a massive nonfiction book have little in common—but in fact they address similar themes. How does a child grow up to commit criminal acts? How do parents react to major unforeseen life events? How do they move on after these events, if such a thing is even possible? For one chapter in his book, Solomon interviewed (and spent hundreds of hours with) the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre. This chapter is incredibly thought-provoking and sobering and would make an appropriate supplement to Defending Jacob—especially in light of the tragedy in Newtown, CT. (Solomon has written thoughtfully about that event, as well.)
Midwives by Chris Bohjalian. Bohjalian’s 1997 book about a midwife accused of murder (by performing an emergency c-section) is one of my favorite courtroom novels of recent memory, pitting doctors against midwives and townspeople against one another—all the while raising plenty of ethical dilemmas. Like Defending Jacob, this novel takes place in a small community and shows what it’s like for a family after a criminal accusation.
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Defending Jacob begs comparison to Shriver’s 2003 Orange Prize-winning novel, in which a teenager commits a grotesque act of violence against his classmates. As you read descriptions of parental anguish and the violent actions of a disturbed boy, you will want to cover your eyes. For better or worse—this book may give you nightmares—you will be unable to stop reading thanks to Shriver’s clever plotting.
The Good Father by Noah Hawley. This is another natural pick for readers who enjoyed Defending Jacob. In both novels, the narrator is a father who is unable to believe that his son committed murder—though in this case, the son is an adult, and the victim is a prominent presidential candidate. Why did the son do what he did? Could his parents have prevented the act of violence? A harrowing (and heart-breaking) story.
Readers: What books would you recommend for fans of Defending Jacob?
Did you miss Defending Jacob? The mass market paperback ($7.99!) comes out on February 26.
ALSO ON THE BOOK CASE: See what to read after Gone Girl.