Graham Moore does courtroom dramas and legal thrillers proud in The Holdout. His characters are believable, the plot is layered and complex, and the conclusion satisfying. I don’t ask for much more in a dramatic thriller.
Maya Seale was a young, somewhat aimless woman, when she reported for jury duty 10 years ago. Like all of us, she figured it would last just a few days and offer a chance to catch up on her latest reading. And then she’s picked for a high-profile, incendiary trial. It introduces her to the intricacies of law and justice, takes four months of her life, and changes her forever.
As the story opens, Maya is now a criminal defense attorney. Her life is as anonymous as possible, although her past notoriety helps her score choice clients. One of her fellow jurors, Rick Leonard, uncovers some exciting new information and shops it to a documentary TV show. The series asks all the jurors to attend a reunion of sorts. They’ll meet in the hotel where they were sequestered for months and stay overnight.
In the morning, everyone expects a dramatic reveal of new details from Rick. But soon after the reunion starts, he and Maya have a conversation in her room. It’s practically an argument, and she storms out. When she comes back, Rick is dead on the floor and she’s the prime suspect.
The Holdout tells Maya’s story, both the original trial and her current tenuous situation. Much of the drama hinges on one person convincing another not to be “the holdout”—the person on the jury who won’t be swayed. And Maya holds true to her original assessment of the trial’s evidence even as it plays into solving today’s crime.
Moore delves into one woman’s maturation process as he develops Maya’s character. She starts out relatively naïve in the jury room. Later she’s strong and calm under pressure, if a bit hardened. Throughout the story, she is principled. But defining principles is fluid. The more you know about law, the more you can bend it to suit your purposes.
Moore builds a complex web of story lines and characters, covering both timelines. Maya and her fellow jurors, the family of the victim, the accused, and even the court bailiff populate the first timeline. In the present day, we reconnect with everyone, plus Maya’s boss and defense attorney, her BFF, parents, and a gopher from the TV show. But Maya drives all the action, and this makes it easier to connect with the story.
In terms of plot and tension, The Holdout was just what I needed right now. Once I picked it up, I didn’t want to put it down. Sanitizing the house be damned. (Just kidding, I still cleaned responsibly.) I immersed myself in courts, legalities, evidence, and personalities. Plus, Moore gave me a whiff of the flavor of Los Angeles life.
If you need a book to escape reality without visiting a fantasy world, this is definitely worth a look.
Pair with Moore’s earlier book, The Last Days of Night, which is historical fiction with a solid basis in real people and history. If you lean towards real-life legal drama well told, then pair with The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein.
Many thanks to NetGalley, Random House Publishing Group, and the author for a digital advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.