Crime fiction, both books and movies, have had a long time love affair with the jury and its role in the legal system. Think about classics like Twelve Angry Men to slightly more recent efforts like The Juror and The Runaway Jury to last year’s Thirteen (where the killer was on the jury) by Steve Cavanagh. Into this tradition we now have The Holdout by novelist and screenwriter (The Imitation Game) Graham Moore.
It is ten years since Maya Searle was on a jury that acquitted Bobby Knock of the murder of teenager Jessica Silver. It turns out that Maya was the one juror who held out initially and eventually convinced the others that there was enough reasonable doubt to acquit. Following that trial, when further evidence of the Knock’s character was revealed, some of the other jurors and the media had a change of heart and openly blamed her for the acquittal. Ten years later, Searle herself is a successful criminal defence lawyer. She is asked to participate in a documentary about the trial where sensational new evidence will be revealed by former juror and nemesis Rick. But Rick dies before the evidence can be revealed and Maya, suspected of his murder, ends up on the other side of the system.
This is a cleverly constructed thriller. The original trial is revealed through point of view chapters from each of the jurors while in the present, Maya desperately tries to find the truth and clear her name. Given what is revealed about the trial (including the fact that there was no body and there was a fair amount of doubt about pretty much every piece of evidence) it is hard to believe that Maya had to work quite so hard to convince her fellow jurors. But Moore is particularly interested in the way in which the jury group dynamic works, the way decisions are made or minds are changed irrespective of the facts of the case or considerations of justice. While it is a fairly slow start, Moore knows how to layer in the twists and turns and the pace ramps up fairly quickly as they are revealed.
Like most jury stories, particularly ones based around the American criminal justice system, any connection between what happens in this book and the real world is purely coincidental. But that is really by the wayside. The setup is intriguing, the main character is a great combination of relatable everyman and expert and the resolution of the final set of twists while not necessarily completely believable (even in the hyper-real world of the novel) is satisfying. All in all a fun thriller.