The Holdout by Graham Moore
Published: February 18, 2020 by Random House
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Synopsis: In this twisty tale from Moore, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game, young juror Maya Seale is convinced that African American high school teacher Bobby Nock is innocent of killing the wealthy white female student with whom he appears to have been involved and persuades her fellow jurors likewise. Ten years later, a true-crime docuseries reassembles the jurors, and Maya, now a defense attorney, must prove her own innocence when one of them is found dead in Maya’s room.
Review: This book was both very good and also very average. The author is clearly a skilled screenwriter, this comes through in the depth of the dialogue and characterizations throughout the book. I had zero complaints with either of these aspects. The characters were all unique and likeable/unlikeable in entirely different ways. The dialogue between them painted the picture of their relationships in a real and meaningful way.
The plot was well structured and I enjoyed the pacing too. We alternate between the present, where Maya is being accused of the murder of one of her fellow jury members, and flashbacks of the original trial from each of the jury members POV in turn. This gave a really good view on how each of the different people had viewed the case and the individual reasons why they ended up being swayed to vote not guilty. It was also interesting to hear the snippets of testimony from the Bobby Nock trial and I could not help coming to my own conclusions. Obviously the plot touches on racism and classism a bit, but it was well balanced and not heavy handed.
I have two complaints with this book that kept me from rating it higher than three stars. First, I don’t understand why the not guilty vote was so hard to convince everyone of. From what we were presented about the testimony there was multiple reasons for reasonable doubt. All of the jury members were intelligent people, how exactly did only one of them come to the conclusion that the prosecution hadn’t made a compelling case? The defense thought they had made their case so thoroughly they didn’t even call a witness. That was the right call because they shredded the prosecution’s case every time we heard testimony. I found it hard to believe that Maya was the only one with doubts and that she had to convince everyone else.
The other part I was thrown off by was the ending. I knew that there would be a twist from the fact that the author wrote about admiration of Agatha Christie plot twists (so much admiration that he spoiled the twist to three different Christie novels). But this one came out of left field. There wasn’t even a tiny hint that this person could have been the killer of the juror. There were several very good suspects so I am not sure why we went that route except for the “twist”. The resolution to where Bobby Nock was actually guilty was not surprising, I knew it would be something to that effect early on.
Overall this book was very compelling, I found that I couldn’t stop listening to it. I wanted to know what came next and listened to the whole audiobook in about 27 hours. But I wasn’t completely satisfied with the answers I got.
3 thoughts on “Review: The Holdout by Graham Moore”
The inability to finish is one of those major failures that makes me never read that author again. And it could be a simple as providing a horrible ending (The Lovely Bones) or one that didn’t follow (too many to list, and most of them were thrown against the wall).
I don’t care for ambiguous endings. Life is ambiguous, and I don’t want my fiction leading me down a long involving story path – and then dropping me at the end (The Turn of the Screw). Other people must like them, or are entranced enough by the journey that they don’t care where it’s going, because there are so very many of them.
Most books are good enough if they reach a satisfying – and supported – end to the story they’re telling; after all, HEA isn’t the end of everything, even in a love story. It’s good enough that the characters have changed and reached a new place.
But I have to believe it.
Endings seem to be very difficult for a lot of writers. If an ending makes sense, I can largely get on board with it. But, above all, it needs to make sense. I have another review upcoming for an ending that just doesn’t make sense. It really sours the entire book for me.
For me, as an extreme plotter, the ending is connected to the beginning with an irreducible number of steps before the writing starts. Everything is on the line that takes a reader from beginning to end.
In fact, as I’m writing, what I’m working on can always be checked: does this move me on the path to the end? If not, it goes (that’s what’s called killing my darlings).
With a standard like that, I can measure the value of individual people.
I suspect a lot of those who can’t end something are pantsers. The story looks interesting, and off they go – and they’ll ‘know’ when they get there.
My whole point is to find the beginning that makes the ending inevitable – and then give the reader a rollercoaster ride in between.
So much more satisfying.
But some people find the whole writing boring if they already know where they’re going to end up.
It’s like Thelma and Louise, or the movie Vanishing Point. The ending isn’t great, so the journey is flashy and distracting and fun. But I can’t watch those movies again, and I try to write so you’ll find something every time you reread. It’s the goal, anyway.
To me, endings matter.