Online Extras

Defending Jacob, by William Landay


This is an online extra to our August 2013 cover story, 25 greatest law novels ever.

There’s a reason that lawyers and judges speak of the “cold record.” Transcripts possess a special kind of lifelessness. As a law clerk and lawyer, I spent hour upon hour reading transcripts—deposition transcripts, hearing transcripts, trial transcripts—and found the experience deadening. Transcripts take human drama, in all of its complexity and richness, and reduce it to numbered lines of black and white text. Even humor can’t escape getting clinically rendered as “[Laughter.]”

In Defending Jacob, prosecutor-turned-novelist William Landay takes the transcript and turns it into something riveting. The novel begins with the transcript of Andy Barber, a former district attorney, testifying to a grand jury investigating an unspecified defendant for an unspecified crime; additional transcript excerpts appear periodically throughout the narrative. In Landay’s skillful hands, the grand jury transcript performs several roles: It advances the plot, elucidates character, and keeps the reader in continual suspense. And then, in the closing pages, lines of transcript offer up the novel’s stunning twist.

If you’re looking for a break from document review, pick up Defending Jacob. You’ll find yourself eagerly turning transcript pages—and not just to get the experience over with as soon as possible.


David Lat is the founder of Above the Law, a legal news website, and the author of a forthcoming novel, Supreme Ambitions (ABA Flagship).


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In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote

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The Just and the Unjust, by James Cozzens


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