The Holdout by Graham Moore

Nobody warned me quite how engrossing I was going to find The Holdout.  It’s utterly addictive!  And it’s the reason I’ve got absolutely nothing done since I picked it up for a “quick chapter” yesterday afternoon. 

Secrets and lies, mysteries upon mysteries, and a cast of characters each with their own dubious motives. This is a tense, emotionally charged, scary-good, stand-out read that hooked me till the last page.
Caroline Kepnes

what it says on the cover …

One juror changed the verdict. What if she was wrong?

‘Ten years ago we made a decision together…’

Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar fortune, vanishes on her way home from school. Her teacher, Bobby Nock, is the prime suspect. It’s an open and shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed. 

Until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, persuades the rest of the jurors to vote not guilty: a controversial decision that will change all of their lives forever.

Ten years later, one of the jurors is found dead, and Maya is the prime suspect.

The real killer could be any of the other ten jurors. Is Maya being forced to pay the price for her decision all those years ago?

PUBLISHED: 16th February 2021
SHELF: mystery | suspense | thriller
AUTHOR: Graham Moore
PUBLISHER: Orion Publishing Group
FORMATS: Hardback | Paperback | Kindle

‘ I was the one who let you trick me into voting not guilty. I was the one who let you use me. In a moment of weakness … I was the one who caved.’

my review

The Holdout is one of those books that gets so far under your skin you’ll be talking about it for a long time afterwards.  This legal-thriller is superbly generous to the reader, as it contains two gripping murder mysteries; one that plays out in a tenuous court case, and the other ten years later as the scales of justice are rebalanced outside the legal system. This is an extremely clever, genuinely unputdownable book … don’t start reading it if you have plans … and if you have plans, cancel them now. 

Ten years ago, twelve disparate members of the public were sworn in to sit as the jury for a trial that would change their lives forever.  Their case is a high-profile murder trial that’s mired in controversy beyond the headline charge. On trial is Bobby Nock, a young teacher accused of murdering his pupil, fifteen year old Jessica Silver.  But there’s no body, just a handful of findings that the prosecution present as solid evidence, whilst the defence cast reasonable doubt on each and every item.  Jessica is white and affluent.  Bobby Nock is black and from a hard working family.

Against every expectation, and after weeks of deliberation, the jury returns a verdict of not guilty.  It’s not the opinion they shared when they first started their discussions; quite the opposite … fresh from the courtroom, eleven of the jurors were certain of Nock’s guilt.  Over the course of a protracted, fractious few weeks, one single-minded juror persuades each of her peers to change their verdict.  Once the trial ends and under the glare of public condemnation, one-by-one the jurors are quick to point the finger of blame at juror 272. Maya Seale.   

When Maya is approached by Rick to take part in a docu-series reuniting the jurors ten years later she’s naturally reluctant; after all, Rick was the most outspoken and vitriolic voice against her.  But a desire to spend time with the people she shared these singular, life-changing months with proves too compelling … and so Maya finds herself back in the hotel the jury were forced to sequester in for the duration of the case.  Ten jurors attend the reunion, all of them intrigued by Rick’s claim that he’s discovered incontrovertible evidence of Bobby Nock’s guilt.  For ten years, Rick has been unable to move on with his life, devoting himself to an obsessive, all-consuming investigation of his own; into Bobby and Jessica’s lives, into Jessica’s family, and into the jurors’ lives too.  Suddenly the impartiality of each and every one of them is called into question.

The chapters alternate between the trial and the present day, with each timeline intrinsically linked to the other, shedding light on the motivations of each character both in the present day and during the court case.  Whilst the present-day chapters centre on Maya, the historical chapters are narrated in turn by ten of the jurors.  Each juror only has a single chapter, but their testament is written at chronologically progressive points during the court case, and in their turn they grant glimpses of the murder trial, the legal process, and the intricate dynamics between the jurors.

For the first two-thirds of the book I felt as unclear about the truth of the case as the jurors are. The narrators of these chapters present the reader with their understanding of what they’re told by the prosecution, the defence, and the witnesses.  The reader is entirely at the mercy of these ten, surviving individuals, and the lens they’re viewing the proceedings through.  Race, social standing and cultural dynamics all come into play, and try as I might to look beyond these filters, each narrator is so compelling that it was almost impossible not to be influenced to some extent.  The book’s structure, the plot, the unpredictable narrators, and the mercurial lead character all play a role in a masterfully manipulative story.

It’s not until much later in the book that we first hear from Bobby Nock, as he doesn’t take the stand during the trial.  A smart move both by his lawyer and by the author, forcing the jury and reader to rely heavily on narrative they’re presented with. And when Bobby’s story was eventually told, I found my opinions shifting again – the twists and obfuscations that punctuate The Holdout worked seamlessly to keep me guessing. It was my opinion of Maya that changed most significantly; both in terms of the role she played on that jury, and her actions ten years later. 

The Holdout isn’t so much about the murder case as it is about the jury.  Whilst being an utterly compelling legal-thriller that had me hooked from the very first chapter, this superbly written book is an indictment in itself. It examines the reliability of the justice system, the accepted manipulation of narrative, and questions the extent to which anybody can ever be considered genuinely impartial. Sadly, it also shines a spotlight on pervasive influence of racial bias … but aside from the accused being black and victim being white, the author explores the influence of race over one person’s expectations of another’s fidelity.

I’m still trying to reconcile how I feel towards Maya – the character I’d originally liked became someone that troubled me. When she first arrived for her jury service she was idealistic, open-minded and a bit of romantic, but over the course of these historic chapters I was forced to view her through the claustrophobic eyes of her fellow jurors, and her flaws and quirks were magnified into something more toxic.  And ten years later, when she stands accused of murdering one of her fellow jurors I struggled to rationalise some of the decisions she was making with the character I’d constructed for her.  To my mind, some of her actions stepped over the mark into the implausible, but having said that, this didn’t affect my enjoyment of the book.

I can’t recommend The Holdout highly enough! The unpredictability of the plot.  The insights into court proceedings, and the overwhelming fly-on-the-wall sensation.  The calculated guile of the lawyers. The impact and the lasting impression of every single character. The theatre and the humanity.  The canny nods to Agatha Christie, Leo Tolstoy and Harper Lee in both the narrative and the progression of the plot itself. When I picked up my copy of The Holdout I’d only intended to read a few pages to get a feel for it; one day later I’d devoured it, pausing only for a (wholly inconvenient) night’s sleep.  This is one addictive, thought-provoking book!

my rating

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Thank you to Orion Publishing Group and #NetGalley for or granting me this advance copy The Holdout in return for an honest review.

graham moore

Graham is a New York Times bestselling novelist and Academy Award-winning screenwriter. His screenplay for The Imitation Game won the Academy Award and WGA Award for Best Adapted Screenplay in 2015 and was nominated for a BAFTA and a Golden Globe.

His novels, The Holdout, The Last Days of Night, and The Sherlockian, were published in 24 countries and translated into 19 languages. The Last Days of Night was named one of the best books of the year by the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is currently adapting The Holdout as a TV series for Hulu.

Graham lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Caitlin, and their dog, Janet.

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6 thoughts on “The Holdout by Graham Moore

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