Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Holdout

Title:  The Holdout
Author:  Graham Moore
Publication Information:  Random House. 2020. 336 pages.
ISBN:  039959177X / 978-0399591778

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Maya Seale removed two photographs from her briefcase."

Favorite Quote:  "What she missed the most about the person she'd been, Maya realized, was her hope for a coming world that turned out never to have been possible. She was nostalgic for an imaginary future."

Maya Seale was the lone holdout in 2009. She had been on a jury in a murder trial. Twenty-five year old Bobby Nock, a teacher at a school, was accused of killing Jessica Silver, a fifteen year old student in one of his classes. Jessica Silver's body was never found. Twelve random strangers came together in a jury. In the fist vote, eleven voted guilty. One - Maya - voted not guilty. By the end of the trial, all twelve unanimously voted to acquit. 

Ten years later, Maya Seale is a defense attorney in Los Angeles. She has taken great care to run from and hide from those weeks in her life. Now, a reunion is being scheduled, and one other juror, Rick Leonard, claims he has incontrovertible evidence that Bobby Nock was guilty. The focal point of the reunion, of course, will be Maya because she was the lone original holdout that led to Bobby Nock's acquittal. Reluctantly, Maya agrees to be part of the reunion. Why? Many reasons. The most important though is that she has built her life around seeing where the evidence leads, and if there is new evidence, she must see where it leads.

The first night of the reunion brings its own surprise. One of the other jurors is found dead, and Maya becomes the key suspect.

The current day murder investigation brings out the secrets of the ten year old case - the victim, the victim's family, the accused, and the jurors. Every one has secrets they want to hide. The question is which ones are relevant to the case now and which might have been relevant to the case then. "Anyone would look like a villain in a catalogue of only their worst decisions." The book references Agatha Christie's work including Murder on the Orient Express. While this book does not go quite in that direction, it does have the same flavor of lots of lots of secrets and layers.

Beyond the story, the book is a cynical commentary on the legal system, the jury trial, and the role of truth in a courtroom:
  • "Wanting to know. Everybody wants to know. But maybe growing up means accepting that you're not always able to."
  • "In the stories, there's always an answer at the end. Resolution. The detective confronts the killer; the killer admits it. We know for sure. But out here - it's not like that. Out here, maybe somebody goes to jail. Maybe somebody doesn't. But we never know the truth. The real, whole, definite truth. It's impossible."
  • "In courtrooms all across this city, Maya had seen people get verdicts they'd wanted, and she's seen just as many get ones they didn't. But the verdicts had nothing to do with truth. No verdict ever changed a person's opinion. Juries weren't god. The people who went into courtrooms looking for divine revelation came out bearing the fruits of bureaucratic negotiation."
  • "His resolution was the Platonic ideal of a concept from a first-year law school lecture ... In an adversarial system, it is the solemn duty of both adversaries to do their very best to win. Let the system worry about producing truth."
The mystery and the urgency to solve the crime before someone else shows up dead contribute to the pace of this story. I want to know what happens and turn the pages until the very end to find out. Each twist and turn adds another element of surprise. The story and the implicit commentary both make this a memorable read.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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