The Holdout by Graham Moore

Orion | 2020 (20 February) | 336p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book

The Holdout by Graham MooreTen years ago, young Maya Seale was a juror at the trial of Bobby Nock, an African American school teacher accused of murdering his pupil, Jessica Silver, 15 years old, white and the daughter of a billionaire. The evidence seems conclusive. Everyone, especially the media and the general public, is convinced of Nock’s guilt. So too are eleven of the jurors but Maya Seale is not so sure. She is the holdout juror. And she either convinces or persuades the rest to change their verdict to not guilty.

This verdict impacts so many lives, and not just those of the Silver family or Bobby Nock himself. While Maya decides to follow her new interest in the law and become a criminal defence attorney in LA, others find it less easy to leave the past behind, especially one juror in particular, Rick Leonard. Rick was never happy with the verdict and he has spent the years since gathering evidence. He is now ready for the grand reveal. And so a TV company gathers together all of the jurors once more, putting them in the same hotel where they were sequestered ten years before. It’s not long before one of the jurors is found dead in Maya’s room. Now, Maya must defend herself.

I really liked the sound of the premise of The Holdout and it certainly begins in a catchy way. We meet Maya Seale, the successful, clever attorney, who wants to put the past behind her but learns that she can’t. She must clinically work through the clues even when it is her own freedom, perhaps even her own life that’s at risk. We also have the elements of a traditional murder mystery with a small number of suspects confined to the same location as the victim. Any one of them could have done it. It’s only by getting to know each of them in turn that clues will emerge. And so the novel moves between the past and present, focusing on each juror in turn, presenting the reader with the evidence, from which we should determine a verdict.

It’s clever stuff and it’s well-written, authored by an Oscar-winning screenwriter. For me, though, The Holdout, did fall a little flat and that may well be because it might work better on the screen than it does in a novel. There is impact but I’m not so sure that there’s much substance behind it. The characters are impossible to warm to, including Maya. She didn’t feel real to me and some of the things she does don’t seem believable or likely. Although I didn’t care too much for the characters, I did like the narrative style of moving between the present and the past, which really kept the pace of the novel up.

There are some serious issues under consideration here, mostly involving race, wealth and poverty. But I feel that the novel treated them superficially and, again, this might be more effective on the screen than here.

Many readers have loved The Holdout and so I am aware that much of this is very much a personal opinion that probably has a lot to do with the fact that I can struggle with courtroom novels, even though I really enjoy them on TV or in the theatre. This, unfortunately, wasn’t any different, despite its intriguing premise. It’s all a bit too clinical and dispassionate for me and it became a struggle to finish. The length and narrative style meant that I managed it. However, as I have said, many readers have loved it and so, if you enjoy courtroom thrillers, you may find that this book is for you.

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