Defending Jacob

What if an assistant district attorney had to defend his fourteen year old son in a murder case? Sound like a television Father’s Day drama? That’s just what William Landay delivers in his courtroom crime story – Defending Jacob. Although the characters follow a formulaic stereotype and some of the dialogue is reminiscent of Mickey Spillane, the plot is fast-paced, easy reading, with enough change-ups to keep you reading.

Jacob’s middle schooler life is a mystery to his parents until one of his classmates is found stabbed in the park adjacent to the school. Suddenly, the bullying, the hidden knife, a fingerprint, and Jake’s loner personality implicate him as the murderer. Landay effectively uses two catalysts in the mix: the internet – citing Facebook, Twitter, and iPads as adding to public suspicion; and the “murder gene” – a genetic tendency to violence.

I’ve had this book on my shelf and decided to give it away to make room, but, first had to read it. A quick read – less gruesome than other crime novels – Defending Jacob has some father/son relationship angst and family-in-crisis warts, but, for the most part – just another good legal thriller – scheduled to come out in a movie theater soon with talk of Michael Shannon playing the father.

The ending came as a surprise; don’t stop reading after court adjourns.

Calico Joe

“Poets are like baseball pitchers. Both have their moments. The intervals are the tough things.” ~Robert Frost

John Grisham’s “Calico Joe” offers a look inside those intervals through the lives of Joe Castle, a young phenom hitter for the Chicago Cubs and Warren Tracey, an arrogant thirty-four year old pitcher for the Mets.

Paul Tracey, the son of the Mets pitcher and a talented eleven year old Little Leaguer when the story begins, has that love of baseball that makes the players into gods. Calico Joe becomes Paul’s hero, but Paul knows his volatile, abusive father too well to award him the same status. The confrontation between the two baseball players is inevitable and you will know what’s coming long before it happens. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying all the baseball stories along the way.

Is the story true? In his author’s note, Grisham claims the prerogative to fictionalize, but he does base the story on the Cubs and Mets in the 1973 season. Famous names sprinkle the narrative. He also refers to the reality of baseball’s “code” – the story’s scary premise – the “ins and outs of protecting one’s teammates, and retaliation, and the complications of ‘throwing inside.'” Baseball can be a dangerous game.

Whether or not you are a fan of the game, “Calico Joe” is an easy read, with a little schmaltz and a lot of heart.

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