I realized the other night that I haven’t yet written a review for a work of fiction, so I’ll do a short review of a crime novel I read a few weeks ago. Defending Jacob by William Landay was a quick read- I got through it in two days. Now, I should say that I don’t frequently read crime/mystery novels; while I love police procedural t.v. dramas (I’m looking at you, Law and Order,) actual crime novels aren’t of particular interest to me, so feel free to take my opinion with a grain of salt if you’re an avid crime reader.
I found Defending Jacob on a Buzzfeed list of books you won’t be able to stop talking about, and while I don’t think it’s that good of a book, I’d still recommend it if you want something to read this weekend.
The book is about ADA Andy Barber’s career and family after his son was accused of murder. Andy questions whether his son is capable of murdering his classmate, while facing his own family history and coping with being dismissed from his job as assistant district attorney. I found most of the characters to be sympathetic, and the premise of the book is interesting enough that I couldn’t stop reading. I wasn’t blown away by the ending, though- it felt underdeveloped and there was enough foreshadowing throughout the novel that it wasn’t a complete surprise. Other than that, I thought Defending Jacob was a good read- it wasn’t filled with legal jargon and it had the overarching question of how far would a parent go to protect their child.
If you like mysteries and crime novels, is there a particular book you’d recommend for me?
William Landay. Defending Jacob. Delacorte Press, 2012.
I almost never recommend historical books, especially if they’re non-fiction. Mostly because historical non-fiction is almost always written for historians. While I read a lot of excellent books published by academic presses, I would never tell my friends to read them because, quite frankly, academic reading is much more rigorous than leisure reading.
Erik Larson’s work is the best of both worlds. Seriously. Larson was trained as a historian and a journalist, which means he knows how to dig for evidence and analyze what he finds, and write a narrative. Devil is actually two stories- the first is of the building of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the second of H.H. Holmes, America’s first known serial killer. Larson weaves accounts of Holmes’ murders against the backdrop of the designing of the World’s Fair.
The chapters on Holmes are, at times, gruesome, but I found them to be well-balanced with the story of the World’s Fair. This book does have a lot of detail in it, but I could not put it down. If you liked Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, I think you might like this one, although if you’re not a fan of Capote, you might still enjoy the history of the Chicago World’s Fair.
As a side note, have you read The Road by Cormac McCarthy? I’ve been trying to read it for over a week, but I keep losing interest. I think the dragging on may be part of his style and important to the book, but I’m not sure I can finish it. What do you think, should I hang in there, or move on to the next book?
Erik Larson. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America. Vintage Books, 2004.
I rarely crave poetry or writing that makes me cry because of its content and prose. Normally, a short book like You Will Not Have My Hate would never pique my interest. I suppose it’s fortunate for me that I expected this book to be completely different from what it was because it was one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a very long time.
Antoine Leiris lost his wife during the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris. His book is a reflection of his grief, his coping, and his attempt to continue to live after his wife’s death. At times his book is absolutely heart-wrenching as he recounts his shock, his feelings of powerlessness. He confesses his feelings of helplessness in raising his 17-month old son who will never remember his mother; his own heartbreak is present on every page. Yet, despite the author’s grief, there is an overarching sense of hope, love, and determination.
Give yourself an afternoon to read Leiris’ book- you won’t be able to put it down and you’ll have the rare occasion to experience raw human emotion on the page.
Antoine Leiris. You Will Not Have My Hate. Translated by Sam Taylor. Penguin Press, 2016.