The Holdout by Graham Moore
Maya is an accomplished and driven criminal defence lawyer, immersed in courtroom drama, fighting for her clients. The mystery begins by winding back ten years to when she is part of a jury which acquits a black teacher, Bobby Nock, for the murder of Jessica, a white teenager from a wealthy family. As a strong-minded young woman, driven by belief in her own reasoning, her assiduous efforts to cast doubt on his guilt eventually prevail and the whole jury lets him walk free.
Ten years later a TV crew gathers the jury together again to re-examine the case and the outcome of the trial but sensationally one of the jurors is found dead in Maya's room and she is the prime suspect. Maya has few close friends, but finds she has the respect and support of law colleagues. However it is essentially a path of investigation she takes alone, sometimes following leads into precarious situations.
All the while, she and the reader also ponder the result of the original trial. Maya persuaded the rest of the jury to vote not guilty; but was she wrong? What has happened to the parties concerned in the interceding years?And what is the truth behind Jessica Silver's disappearance? The answer to this mystery, which also generated the present crisis, underpins the whole story.
As we accompany Maya through the story, layered with the threads of past and present interwoven, it is easy to see the author is also a screen writer. The story moves easily from scene to scene, with a minimum of descriptive detail, each one revealing a new insight. There is a colourful cast of characters; a wide cross-section of jurors, young and old, successful and struggling, black and white as well as lawyers, police, the parents of Jessica, and even the man they controversially found not guilty of Jessica's murder. All are lightly drawn until Maya turns her attention to them, and light is shed on their characters and motivations. Eventually like Maya we see the situation as a whole.
The quest to find the truth of both past and present mysteries provides the momentum for this story and drew me forward, making up for the characters' lack of depth. The process of prosecution and defence arguments and nuances of courtroom questioning and processes were convincing and credible and the narrative was clearly written and engaging. This story could be a great script for a TV drama but as a novel it enabled me to ponder the way justice works and the way in which the legal system does not always protect the innocent and punish the criminal. Both mysteries, the past trial and the present murder, suggest that the criminal justice system is not always the best way of arriving at the truth or the best way to provide justice.
I was easily absorbed by this mystery and recommend it as a great "train, boat and plane" read !
Reviewer: Clare Lyon
Published by Orion, RRP $34.99