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11 Years after ‘Defending Jacob,’ Newton’s William Landay is back with a new Boston-set crime thriller

Author William Landay at his home in Newton next to a poster of the "Defending Jacob" miniseries, based on his 2012 book.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

Throughout the 1990s, attorney William Landay had a habit to feed.

A novel-writing habit. Try as he might, he couldn’t shake it.

“I worked through various failed books. Eventually, I started taking long sabbaticals to write. I’d pull out my retirement money and live on that for a year. I bartended [at Flat Top Johnny’s] in Cambridge for a while. ... When the money or the ideas or the words ran out, I’d go back to the DA’s office,” said Landay.

Growing up in Brookline, Landay didn’t see novel-writing as a viable career path.

So the Roxbury Latin alum followed a more “conventional path,” he says: first Yale, then a law degree from Boston College in 1990, and eventually, a job as an assistant DA in Middlesex County.


When his wife, Susan, was pregnant some 22 years ago, Landay was “getting ready to walk away” from writing “because it seemed you couldn’t continue to be an unpublished writer when you have a kid.”

Then, in an obstetrician’s office, his world flipped.

“We were at the OB’s office to hear the baby’s heartbeat. In the waiting room, my agent called: the book had sold,” Landay tells me in our recent phone interview from his Newton home.

Mission Flats” went on to win a Crime Writers’ Association Dagger Award for best first crime novel.

Landay truly arrived with his third book, 2012′s “Defending Jacob,” a bestseller adapted into a 2020 Apple+ TV series starring Sudbury’s own Captain America, Chris Evans, and “Downton Abbey’s” Michelle Dockery. The show filmed in the area.

After 11 years, Landay is back. His new Boston-set crime thriller, “All That is Mine I Carry With Me,” hit shelves March 7, and is an Apple Best Book of March.

The nutshell: Newton, 1975: 10-year-old Miranda Larkin comes home to find her mom, Jane, missing. The suspect: Jane’s husband. But the case remains unsolved. Miranda and her brothers, Alex and Jeff, are left with a cold case and family drama.


Decades later, our narrator Phil — a lawyer-turned-novelist suffering from writer’s block — gets an e-mail from his old pal, Jeff Larkin. Jeff has a story for Phil to use. The pals meet at Doyle’s in Jamaica Plain, and the thrilling tale, told from various view-points, gets going…

Phil “resembles me pretty closely,” Landay says. “I’m pretty close to the surface in this book, as I hope readers will sense.”

The opening line: “After I finished writing my last novel, I fell into a long silence.”

Landay lives in Newton with his wife and their two sons, ages 21 and 18. I called him at home ahead of his two virtual events, March 13 and 14.

Q. So what sparked this new book?

A. That’s a complicated question. I didn’t want to write “Defending Jacob II.” [Also] I was looking to raise the bar — this book is structurally more complex than “Defending Jacob.” It relies on the reader to [do] more puzzle-solving.

In some ways, it’s a mirror image of “Defending Jacob,” which was about parents’ anxiety looking at their children; this is in some ways about children’s anxiety looking at their parents.

A copy of “All That is Mine I Carry With Me,” William Landay’s newest novel, at his home in Newton.Nathan Klima for The Boston Globe

Q. Was it hard to get started with another book after “Jacob”?

A. It was. The book opens with a narrator who is blocked. I won’t say that parallels my experience exactly, but a lot of that is accurate. It’s hard to follow up a book like [“Jacob.”]


I’m not a born-writer. It’s always been a heavy lift for me, and every book continues to be a heavy lift, even now.

Q. What’s your writing process?

A. Well, it was 11 years between books, so clearly my process needs a little work. [laughs] I’m not one of those writers who produces X number-of-words per day. I wish I were.

I’m a big planner, I tend to outline a lot before I start writing.

Q. You said earlier you had an office in Back Bay. That’s just for writing?

A. Correct. It helps me to get up in the morning and go to an office.

Q. How much of your work as a lawyer affects the stories you create?

A. I try not to let it affect things too much because I want the stories to be about humans — I don’t want them to get bogged down in the technicalities of procedure. However, I couldn’t possibly research what it’s like to be a surgeon or violinist or astronaut and speak with the kind of genuineness I can easily muster for a story about lawyers.

Q. You said you left law about 20 years ago to pursue writing full-time.

A. I’d always thought about writing, or was actively writing — I just never considered it a career option. It feels dangerous. There’s an old joke that writing is like bullfighting: the reward for surviving is you get to do it again.


Q. I like that. What do you read?

A. I try to be eclectic. It’s been mostly nonfiction lately. I don’t read a lot of detective fiction or crime fiction, even though that’s what I wound up writing. That probably has more to do with working as an assistant DA, than what I read. I’m drawn to crime stories, mainly because they’re a prism through which you can study relationships and experiences that are of more universal interest.

There’s an old saying that bad men do what good men dream. It’s always interesting to me that crime stories are popular among people who wouldn’t so much as steal a candy bar, but they are [interested] and the reason they are is [crime stories] open up a lot of universal feelings.

Q. With “Jacob’s” success, your life must’ve totally changed.

A. In a way it has, but in a way it hasn’t. It’s not like being an actor or a musician, where live performance is necessary — people consume it in private. You’re not present for a lot of the success.

Q. Right, but most people don’t get the call that their book is going to be adapted for a series, or that Chris Evans signed on.

A. [laughs] Yeah, that is the exception. They filmed here; I went several times to the set to watch actors recite lines that I just made up.


Q. What did you think of the show?

A. I loved the show. It was different from the book and I never had any objection to that.

Q. What was your reaction when you found out Chris Evans was signing on?

A. Bliss. I was over-the-moon. To get an A-list film star attached to your TV project is no small thing. The fact that he’s a Bostonian was icing on the cake.

Interview has been edited and condensed. Learn more about the book and upcoming virtual events here.