The Holdout by Graham Moore

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

So much like a re-make of Twelve Angry Men in literary form and so very, very different, Graham Moore’s thriller, with its devious, unexpected ending is likely to stand amongst the classics of suspenseful writing.

Moore has published two other works, but neither of them has the impact that The Holdout inflicts on its readers. Each step is crafted on what has come before; each response by a significant person at key points throughout the story rings genuine – but may not be. Each obvious piece of evidence may not be. A master hand is at work.

The question asked from the very beginning is: one jury member changed the verdict. What if she was wrong? The question is not resolved until the very last pages. Then, even then, the lead character and the reader face a different, yet related, dilemma.

The plot is as old as mankind. Whether there are, in fact, any new plots left, is a debate for another time. This plot remains interesting because of the original way the author presents it to his readers. This is a very visual book, it is a dramatic work, revealing the author’s background as a screenwriter. It is destined for the big screen. The cast is easily identified, each has his/her own distinctiveness, each her own strengths and flaws; dialogue (on which the book relies very heavily) is already in place, and the book’s two story lines interweave to form a coherent unit.

The story structure will be frustrating to some readers. I did not find it so. Dates of events are spaced a decade apart and the times alternate chapter by chapter. The names of characters head the chapters and these dance around as well. Perhaps this structure was chosen to hint that the reader will need to be swift on her toes if she intends to stay with a twinkle-toed plot.

The characters are strongly delineated. Some of them are both powerfully drawn and powerful; others are refreshing, or insipid or weak or unstable. Most are flawed and therefore, human. Whatever their particular foibles, each is drawn by a writer who knows how best to present them.  The character, who is the ‘holdout’ of the title, is portrayed relentlessly but remains consistent and human throughout the length of the book.

So, what are the nuts and bolts of this story? They are simple enough. A fifteen year old heiress to a very, very large fortune disappears when returning home from school. Circumstances place her teacher in the dock as her killer. The police and the District Attorney’s office push hard for a conviction. It doesn’t happen as they expect, because one juror was able to persuade all of the others that they should find the defendant innocent. Later one of the jury panel is found dead and ‘the holdout’ is suspected.

The author addresses wider issues as incidental to the story line but does not minimise their importance. One has to shudder at the American justice system as depicted in Moore’s book. Media scrutiny is condemned through its ugliness. Central to the whole story is the overt racism, so often witnessed in American (and other) societies.

This is a cracker of a book. Don’t disregard it.

The Holdout

(2020)

By Graham Moore

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 978-0-857-82729-6

$32.99; 336 pp

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