Beyond A Reasonable Doubt

Author: Graham Moore

A wealthy, underage heiress is missing, presumed dead. Her young, black teacher and secret lover, Bobby Nock, was the last to see her. Her parents want justice. Society wants revenge. It’s an open and shut case really, especially after the illicit text messages between student and teacher come to light, read before the entire world and the grieving parents. The crime is obvious. The motive an old one. But, is it too obvious?

Maya Silver is the only juror convinced of Bobby’s innocence. There is, she insists, a reasonable doubt, and as she works her way through the hung jury, one at a time, they slowly see her point. Or give into the pressure. The last remaining juror though, the man whom she loves, is not so sure. He finally agrees, but years later as new evidence comes to light, he joins forces with a documentary series to reveal the full truth and make Maya for the mistakes of her past.

As Maya, now a successful defense attorney, struggles against the wave of public opinion and the attacks of her former friend and lover, each juror from that long ago trial is brought back to the place where it all happened. There is, after all, money in the docu-series and a chance for everyone to save face by accusing Maya, by highlighting how she single-handedly forced them to change their verdict and let a murderer go. When the lead juror is found dead in Maya’s hotel room, it looks like her crimes are worse than everyone thought. Desperate to clear her name and find out what really happened to Jessica Silver, Maya slowly follows the threads of the long ago case back to the original killer.

The Holdout is a quick and easy thriller; while the characters are not especially likable, the story is propulsive and something about the writing, the twists, and the scandalous nature of the drama, mixed with everything from underage relationships to racism and classism, keeps the reader guessing and invested. Maya is a true anti-hero with little conscious. As a defense attorney who is proud of having defended the guilty, she is more interested in the game of law than the purpose it serves, but this actually makes the story more remarkable and lets her go places and perform actions that an otherwise “good” protagonist couldn’t. Maya also teams up with her legal team, but it’s not all purely practical or a smart woman’s answer to the ultimate challenge. Buried deep in Maya is something akin to regret and grief – but not necessarily for the reasons you expect.

The other jurors come and go, their side stories spicing up the mix. They all thought Bobby was guilty and all eventually had reasons for acquiescing to Maya. As we discover, none of the jurors are perfect, and there were multiple breaches of the rules (and common ethics) during the original trial. That long ago hotel with its sequestered jurors saw a lot of relationships and enmities, a lot of hidden secrets, and now Maya is slowly pulling the strange threads that still bind them all, going back in the past, hunting for the real killer before he can put her behind bars for a crime she didn’t commit.

The Holdout isn’t perfect. Like so many courtroom thrillers, there are holes, and the final “easy way out” where the real criminal is captured as a matter of true dues ex machine convenience. For all that, however, there is something compelling about the way the narrative is told, even in the unlikable nature of the main characters. I can’t entirely put my finger on it, but I kept turning pages, kept being invested in the twists and turns, in the moments that flowed well and the others where I had to use some imagination and narrative forgiveness to get passed the confluence of convenient events. It just works. This isn’t a great novel – not the thriller or mystery of the year or anything like that. But it’s fun, and it makes you want to stay in the world and keep reading, keep playing with the details of a titillating series of events that even have occasional societal relevance buried beneath all the crime, back stabbing, and secrets. I loved it. I could have easily read it in one sitting, and while I wouldn’t necessarily read it again, I would like to find and experience more stories from this author. This is a weird recommendation, I admit, but it’s a strong one. The Holdout just has the right aura, the right everything, to make those courtroom thrill seekers among us happy.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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