The Holdout, by Graham Moore

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Graham Moore and Random House for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When this Graham Moore novel crossed my radar, I could not help but be interested to see how he’d spin this story about a jury faced with a murder trial. The book ended up being so much more, perfect for those who love a good legal drama with a mystery mixed into the plot. Maya Seale is a successful criminal defence attorney in Los Angeles, able to see things from the accused’s point of view with ease. However, she has not always had this wonderful job, having served on a highly-controversial jury a decade before. In 2009, Maya and fourteen others were gathered to hear the case of The People vs. Robert Nock, in which the defendant is accused of killing one of his high school students. Maya engages with the other jurors, none more so than Rick Leonard, as they listen to the evidence and form their own opinions about his guilt. The story depicts how this collection of everyday citizens made the baffling decision to find Nock not guilty, which created immediate vilification by the public. As the story progresses, Moore introduces a second narrative in which the jurors are brought together by a production company to revisit their decision a decade later. While Maya awkwardly encounters Rick Leonard again, the man who shared her bed during the trial and then stabbed her in the back during a tell-all book after the trial, she also gets the chance to remember a lot of what happened during the trial. When Leonard is found dead in Maya’s hotel room, all eyes turn to her as the most likely suspect. Maya, wanting to cleaner her name, collects a number of portfolios Leonard left behind and discovers new and scandalous information about their fellow jurors. As the story flips between 2009 and the present, the readers can fill in all the pieces, from the trial and the current investigation to find out who might have killed Rick Leonard. Additionally, there is the question of what really happened and how the jury’s deliberations turned on a dime. An intriguing legal drama that will leave the reader wondering how much they think they know about an apparent open and shut case, as well as the plight of those tasked with judging a man’s life with filtered evidence. Recommended to those who love all things courtroom, as well as the reader who likes a mystery that slowly unfolds.

I always enjoy something with a legal flavour, particularly when it strays from the cookie-cutter style of writing and leaves me wondering where things will go. Maya Seale takes up the role as the protagonist in this piece, whose role is important in both the 2009 and modern narrative streams. She went into the trial and was sure she could convince any of her fellow jurors of the truth she saw, thinking that Rick Leonard would be the least of her worries. However, she was wrong and spent much of the flashback sections trying to convince them, while seeking to stay one step ahead in the present day narrative as she is accused of killing her one-time lover who sought to hang her out to dry. As she discovers new truths about her fellow jurors, she also must piece together what happened leading up to the trial that split the country. Many other characters make their impact throughout, particularly through a narrative technique that Moore uses, allowing the reader to see things through a variety of perspectives. This, in turn, permits the reader to have a better handle on all aspects of the story and the trial at its core. Graham Moore does a masterful job at presenting a case to the reader, develops the courtroom arguments and pushes the reader into the deliberation room as well. By writing chapters that tell things from the perspective of all the jurors, the reader is given the opportunity to see the story in a new light. Adding the current time period narrative, the story’s plot thickens even more and everything that the reader (and jurors) thought they knew soon goes up in smoke. Powerful in its delivery and easily read in short order, Moore treats the reader to a wonderful legal tale that is anything but straightforward.

Kudos, Mr. Moore, for a lovely way to introduce me to your writing. I will surely be back to read more in the coming months.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: