The story begins in the days after the murder of a local boy named Billy Rifkin. The quiet, small town of Newton, Massachusetts is shook to its core at this brutal crime. Andrew “Andy” Barber is the First Assistant District Attorney leading the investigation. The best clue they have is a single bloody fingerprint on the boy’s clothing. Soon, his life with wife, Laurie, is turned upside down as fingers are being pointed at Andy’s son, Jacob, a quiet and shy fourteen year who liked video games and the internet. As Andy begins to dig into his son’s life, he becomes afraid of is known as the “murder gene” and the question: is violence hereditary? As any parent fears, Andy learns that there is a darker side to his quiet son. Soon, the fingerprint has been identified- it’s Jacob’s. The case against him is fast tracked and any investigations into other possible suspects is dropped. Did Jacob kill Ben Rifkin? Was it someone else hidden in the shadows?
This story had so many twists and turns that even after finishing the book leaves more questions than answers, not unlike real criminal cases. Not all investigations and trials are as black and white as they are sometimes portrayed on TV. As to the murder gene, I think if you look into any family long enough and far back enough, you will find less than savory behavior and individuals. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I could not put in down and finished it within one day. There were a few lighter moments with the very serious topic. There is one statement that Andy makes about Whole Foods grocery stores that made me laugh because I feel the same way. I also enjoyed that the author leaves judgment up to the reader while challenging their understanding in what is inherited and what is learned. The ending is shocking and left me saying “WHAT?!?!?” The reader is left wondering who the real killer is. Was the killer the one who confessed or the one who got away? I highly recommend Defending Jacob. It is a great mystery that leaves no clear answer as to who, what or why.