The Holdout by Graham Moore
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Published: 20th February 2020 (Orion)
Being a juror on a high profile murder case has got to be a thrill ride and a half: looking at the bloody evidence and weighing witness statements, the savage craziness of the media interest, then finally getting to decide the fate of a man charged with murder. It’s got to be just like tv, right? Exciting. Maybe even a shot at your own fame… 15 minutes or otherwise.
But what Maya Seale got wasn’t quite fame, it was INFAMY. Not convinced of Bobby Nock’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt, she campaigned for a Not Guilty verdict and eventually persuaded, or wore down, all the other jurors. The result was spectacularly unpopular, provoking uproar in both the courtroom and the real world, and changing the jurors’ lives forever.
Now it’s 10 years later and they’re back together again. Apparently there’s new evidence to consider and more questions to be asked. Everyone wants to know if they got it wrong. But when one juror ends up dead, it looks like someone’s willing to kill to keep their secrets buried for good.
You can tell the author has screenwriting experience, The Holdout would be well served as a slick tv series or film. Nevertheless, this is a surprisingly issue led book for something that’s also a hell of a lot of fun.
Racism stands front and centre, with the black defendant Bobby Nock identified as the murderer of a pretty blonde girl from the ‘right’ kind of (rich) family in no small part due to the colour of his skin. The intersections of race and justice are examined throughout the novel, particularly through the multifaceted levels of expectation, misunderstanding, and outright prejudice. The notion that race or skin colour has more to do with guilt/innocence than the evidence is cleverly developed through the varied perspectives of the jurors.
Multiple POVs reveal the action in a dual timeline, the original period of the trial and the present day search for the killer(s). More than the did-he-do-it mystery or even the who’s-the-killer-now question, it’s the author’s examination of ‘justice’ via jury that fascinates. All the big social issues are here in microcosm and while the sideways commentary on fairness, class, race, justice, and the individual are intriguing, I wish there had been more of it. Especially because the plot did edge into the far-fetched at times. Even so, while readers might guess something of the ending if they know the ‘rules’ of storytelling, knowing one of the twists didn’t ruin the finale in any way. The book kept some surprises close.
Fast paced and offering a genuine good time, The Holdout is well worth reading before it undoubtedly hits the screen.