The Holdout by Graham Moore
I first heard about this book at some point last fall. It had come highly recommended by an established author who had received an advance copy. Based on this recommendation, I pre-ordered the book on Amazon and anxiously awaited it’s arrival. It wasn’t worth the wait.
— Mild spoilers ahead —
Ten years ago, Maya served on the jury of a trial as sensational as the OJ Simpson trial (or nearly). In Twelve Angry Men style, she convinces all of the jurors of the defendant’s innocence. After the verdict is read out, the media descends and her fellow jurors throw her under the bus.
Now, an entertainment company is trying to get all the jurors together for the 10th anniversary of the trial. They want to revisit the case and then do a new vote. Has everything the jurors have found out about the defendant in the intervening years swayed their decision? Well, nobody will know because one of the other jurors is found dead in Maya’s hotel room. Can she solve his murder before she faces a jury of her own?
Let me start by saying, the premise is amazing. The idea of the book is fantastic! However, it doesn’t quite fulfill. For one thing, the constant time shifts between the present and the trial ten years before ruin any tension building.
And the book lacks tension throughout. It’s described on it’s cover as a thriller, but I didn’t experience that. This was not a book that I couldn’t put down. I wasn’t debating staying up an extra hour to read a couple more chapters versus being well rested for work the next day. I wasn’t gripped by the story.
The reason is that the stakes are so low for Maya. She is a high powered, well paid attorney in Los Angeles. And the moment she is taken in for questioning, the lead attorney at her firm is there to defend her. He is the most powerful and competent criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles by Maya’s own reckoning. So, why should I worry that a wealthy white woman with the city’s best lawyer and unlimited resources will be wrongly convicted for murder?
And Maya doesn’t seem all that concerned for herself. Oh, sure, she does some investigating on her own (usually with her lawyer’s permission), but I didn’t get any real sense of urgency from her. She’s the primary suspect in the murder and she’s able to leave the city on multiple occasions, without any repercussions. The police take upwards of a week to make a formal arrest and after a single night in jail she is arraigned. Bail is set at one million dollars and her lawyer has a check already written out.
The worst crime of the whole book, though, may be that the reader has no ability to solve either crime. Oh, you can make guesses, of course. But when the “solution” is revealed there’s no sense of “I knew it!” or “How did I miss that?”. It’s just “oh, okay”. Maybe Mr. Moore wasn’t looking for this to be a mystery, exactly. Just a thrilling adventure. But I’m not sure it worked in that capacity either.
In the end, I have to give it 3.5/5 stars. The premise was good. The setup was on point. The writing itself (sentence structure, word choice, etc.) were all excellent. It just failed to deliver on the promises made in the beginning.
The Holdout by Graham Moore