Tag Archives: Bantam Books

Law and Order

Defending Jacob: A Novel by William Landay (Random House/Bantam, $16.00, 437 pages)

If you loved Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow, read this.

defending jacob amazon

One of my favorite films is the Al Pacino classic And Justice for All, which might as well have been titled And Justice for No One.  In my time as a reviewer for Joseph’s Reviews, I have reviewed many crime/suspense/mystery/call them what you will novels, because many people enjoy reading these books.  Most, in my opinion, are average at best.  They appeal to a certain readership, and they get published.

The ones that distinguish themselves stand out for reasons that can sometimes be explained – for example, they actually tell a story, the reader cares about the characters, and they defy the formulaic conventions that permeate run-of-the-mill books.  Other times the reasons are more subtle.  A writer can just plain write – simple as that, and the book stands on its own, independent of any pre-conceived convention.  In those cases, things become a bit more subjective.

William Landay’s Defending Jacob succeeds on both accounts and is one heckuva book, period.  For people who enjoy the genre, it is an absolute must read.  Landy tells the story of Ben Rifkin’s murder in the first person, which is a brilliant decision.  This point of view adds to the suspense and human dilemma faced by the main character, Andy Barber, and his family.  A less skillful writer might not have pulled this off, but as it stands, the decision perfectly advances the story.  The reader suspends judgment and is pulled in multiple directions throughout the entire novel.

Barber is the town’s assistant district attorney and the initial investigator on the Rifkin case.  Ben is brutally stabbed in a park on his way to school.  Eventually, Andy’s son, Jacob, a socially awkward teen who was bullied by Ben, is accused of the murder.  This creates further complications, including politics in the D.A.’s office.  On top of that, Andy’s conscience may not be the most reliable barometer, as he has spent his life trying to bury the fact that his father is serving a life sentence for murder.  Is there such a thing as a murder gene, a propensity for violence?

Jacob’s internet proclivities and childhood indiscretions don’t help him.  But do they add up to murder?

In the end, a second incident and the preponderance of the evidence appears to lead to a certain direction, but the plot is so carefully constructed that empathy for the narrator still tempers judgment, and – like in And Justice for All, sometimes justice is not absolute.  Sometimes the criminal justice system is only as good as the flawed humans who are entrusted to administer it.

Highly recommended.

Dave Moyer

Dave Moyer is a public school system superintendent, and is the author of Life and Life Only: A Novel.

Note: Defending Jacob is used as a textbook in Criminal Justice  introductory classes at California State University, Sacramento as it provides insight into the complexities of the criminal justice system.

 

 

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Tailgating

Tail Gait (Amazon)

Tail Gait: A Mrs. Murphy Mystery by Rita Mae Brown & Sneaky Pie Brown (Bantam, $26.00, 307 pages)

“Smartest thing we ever did, separation of church and state, and we can thank Madison for drawing up those Articles for Virginia when we were a colony.” Ginger’s tone brooked no interference, but then the rest agreed on this issue.

Professor Greg “Ginger” McConnell, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Virginia is a tenacious researcher who has been digging into land ownership matters that must be sensitive to someone who wants to keep the past buried. Ginger is the victim of that someone and he’s found dead in the rough of a golf course by several of his former students.

Tail Gait follows two story threads, one set in the Revolutionary War and the other in 2015. The plight of a brave young British soldier captured by the Americans is contrasted with the murder of the history professor. The locale is Rita Mae Brown’s home turf, Virginia.

Typical of Ms. Brown, there are many teaching moments inserted here and there. Readers familiar with the Sneaky Pie Brown mysteries may be disappointed that the feline Mrs. Murphy and her furry friends are not more prominently featured in the solution to Ginger’s murder.

The two story threads seem unrelated until more than halfway through the book. The reader is left wondering when, if ever, Ms. Brown will get to the point. The writing in both threads is sadly uneven. This reviewer needed to reread passages for clarification. This work is far below the standard earlier set by Brown; thus, it’s not engaging or entertaining. If there’s another book in the series, let’s hope that Mrs. Murphy is returned to her starring role!

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

You can read a review of Cat Striking Back: A Joe Grey Mystery by Shirley Rousseau Murphy here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2010/02/25/cat-striking-back/

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The Stranger You Seek

The Stranger You Seek: A Novel by debut author Amanda Kyle Williams will be released by Bantam on Tuesday, August 30, 2011.   However, you don’t have to wait until then to begin reading it.   Click on the link below to read the first two chapters of The Stranger You Seek:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/58004614/The-Stranger-You-Seek-by-Amanda-Kyle-Williams-Excerpt

Joseph Arellano

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Coming Up Next…

Don't Follow Me 3A review of Don’t Follow Me, I’m Lost: A Memoir of Hampshire College in the Twilight of the ’80s by Richard Rushfield.

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Mystery to Me

No One You KnowWhen Truman Capote wrote In Cold Blood, he called it a non-fiction novel.   With No One You Know, Michelle Richmond has written what might be called the fictional true crime story.   Ellie Enderlin lives in San Francisco where she works as a coffee buyer, traveling to many countries to find the very best beans.   Her sister Lila, a math genius, was murdered 20 years earlier while studying at Stanford.   Things have come together in such a way for Ellie that she thinks its time to find out who killed Lila, and why.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this story and Michelle Richmond’s writing style is smooth and easy to follow.   Anyone who has lived in or loves San Francisco will connect with certain places and scenes in the book (the main character went to college at U.S.F.).   Richmond also has a sly sense of humor…   In one scene Ellie steps into a coffee house that features books having a certain theme.   This time the theme is fog, and one of the books featured is Footsteps in the Fog: Alfred Hitchcock’s San Francisco.   Then there’s, “a novel that I’d read recently, a sort of literary mystery about a kidnapping set in San Francisco.   The book had been interesting, if somewhat drawn out.”   In this way Richmond both references and makes fun of her earlier book, The Year of Fog.   Clever!

But there was a problem and it went to believability.   Early on, Richmond puts Ellie together with a former Stanford student who was thought to be a prime suspect in her sister’s death; what today would be called “a person of interest.”   But instead of permitting them to meet in the Bay Area, she transports both to the village of Diriomo, Nicaragua.   This seemed quite unnecessary – I still don’t see the rationale for it – and it made me wonder if I would find the remainder of the story to be credible.   Fortunately, Richmond’s telling makes a full recovery.   But…

The story also seemed about 31 pages too long.   The natural ending – the resolution of the basic story – comes at page 275, but it continues on until page 306.   (In Richmond’s own words, somewhat drawn out.)

Despite a couple of issues mentioned here, I look forward to reading Richmond’s next novel.   I may also read The Year of Fog, a book I decided earlier to by-pass due to its subject matter.   Richmond’s strengths lie in addressing the topics of morality, trust, human relationships, love and loss.   In No One You Know, she makes a superb case for the need to learn (and accept) the truth about those we love – because the truth defines them in human scale, in human terms.   And as Jackson Browne would remind us, sometimes we didn’t know what it was that we loved about another person.   The love was enough.

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