Book review: The Holdout by Graham Moore

The Holdout – Graham Moore

The Holdout has a great premise that draws you quickly into an intriguing situation. And it’s not just the opening introduction where you are introduced to Maya Seale, a defense lawyer defending a woman who was arrested driving around with her husband’s decapitated head in the glove compartment. Before she became a respected partner in a law firm Maya was on the jury of a notorious court case that acquitted black schoolteacher Bobby Nock of kidnapping and murdering a 15 year-old child, Jessica Silver. 10 years later the jury members are having a kind of reunion.

It’s not really the kind of thing you do and Maya is obviously reluctant to take part, but there’s a reason for the reunion, a reason that Netflix true crime series addicts will recognise. They’re making a documentary serial Murder Town and one of her fellow members believes that evidence which wasn’t available at the original trial has turned up and it points to Bobby Nock’s guilt. There’s another reason Maya doesn’t want to take part, as she was the only jury member holding out on a guilty verdict, the one who convinced all the others that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict. And she’s probably the only person in America who still believes Nock is innocent. Maybe she doesn’t want to admit or find out that she was wrong.

Aside from the disputed forensic evidence the case has some tricky race issues and implications involving LAPD abuses of justice, which might have some bearing on how the case is perceived, since Nock was a young black man and Jessica the daughter of an important wealthy white businessman, LA city planner Lou Silver. Evidently we’re invited to see parallels with the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial. Perhaps the trickiest part of this case however, the one big doubt about Nock’s guilt, is that Jessica’s body was never found. For many reasons then, Interest in controversial case hasn’t waned over the years.

Despite being unpopular with the other members of the jury whose lives obviously have been changed through their involvement in the case, Maya is persuaded to participate. Before they can start filming interviews with the jurors however at the same hotel where they were sequestered in 2009 and before any of the new evidence can be presented to the original jurors to reconsider, one of them is killed. Suspiciously, it’s the person with new evidence who is dead and he hasn’t yet told anyone else about his findings. Not only that, but as he was killed in Maya’s room she is likely to be charged with his murder.

Written by Graham Moore, who was the screenwriter for The Imitation Game, The Holdout has little in common with that period movie script other than perhaps looking at historic injustice in a more contemporary context where the media and society have even greater control of the narrative. It’s certainly paced like a movie and well-constructed to start to show the flaws and prejudices of each of the jurors, one of whom might be a murderer. The ending might need a bit of work though as while it does successfully spring a few surprises, it doesn’t deliver all you might hope for, fizzling out in a couple of slightly improbable revelations and freely given confessions rather than any big drama, but there’s still plenty here to give the readership jury much to consider.


Updated: Mar 05, 2020

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