Before I get too deeply into this, I want to say two things. One, I have never wanted a 4.5 star rating on Goodreads as much as I want one for this book. I mean, Jeff Bezos was able to launch himself into freaking SPACE but half-star reviews are just too complicated to program? Ludicrous, except that no one at Amazon cares about Goodreads.
Two, I love Graham Moore. He is the author that I am most excited about probably since my fifteen-year-old self was excited about John Irving. And for those of you who didn’t know me then…wow, was I excited about John Irving.
I’ve read all three of his books and they are each sublime. They are tightly, and intricately plotted. His prose flows effortlessly. His characters jump off the page, as the complete and fully-realized humans they really are. There isn’t a false note anywhere. Graham Moore can write, y’all.
But the really impressive thing is that the three books are so…different. Not different in the sense that Piranesi was “different” (read: edgy…eccentric…weird)…but different from each other. The Sherlockian is a charming murder mystery, set against the backdrop of The Baker Street Irregulars, the world’s largest group Holmes afficianados. The Last Days of Night is the fictionalized true story of the 1888 clash between Edison and Westinghouse, who were battling to control the spread of electricity across the country. And The Holdout is a true thriller about a woman who is the lone non-guilty vote on a jury, her battle to change the minds of the other 11, and the far-reaching consequences of having done so.
Going back to my man John Irving, who, while unquestionably brilliant, still kinda wrote the same book a bunch of times, this range in a new author is breathtaking. I am so excited for the next Moore book…and the next one…and the next one.
At this point, I should really talk a bit about this book, though. I mean, I am supposed to be reviewing it.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • One juror changed the verdict. What if she was wrong? From the Academy Award–winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game and bestselling author of The Last Days of Night. . . .
An ID Book Club Selection • “Exhilarating . . . a fiendishly slippery game of cat-and-mouse suspense and a provocative, urgent inquiry into American justice (and injustice) in the twenty-first century.”—A. J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window
It’s the most sensational case of the decade. Fifteen-year-old Jessica Silver, heiress to a billion-dollar real estate fortune, vanishes on her way home from school, and her teacher, Bobby Nock, a twenty-five-year-old African American man, is the prime suspect. The subsequent trial taps straight into America’s most pressing preoccupations: race, class, sex, law enforcement, and the lurid sins of the rich and famous. It’s an open-and-shut case for the prosecution, and a quick conviction seems all but guaranteed—until Maya Seale, a young woman on the jury, convinced of Nock’s innocence, persuades the rest of the jurors to return the verdict of not guilty, a controversial decision that will change all their lives forever.
Flash forward ten years. A true-crime docuseries reassembles the jury, with particular focus on Maya, now a defense attorney herself. When one of the jurors is found dead in Maya’s hotel room, all evidence points to her as the killer. Now, she must prove her own innocence—by getting to the bottom of a case that is far from closed.
As the present-day murder investigation weaves together with the story of what really happened during their deliberation, told by each of the jurors in turn, the secrets they have all been keeping threaten to come out—with drastic consequences for all involved.
We spend a lot of time with Maya as she works to convince the other jurors in the jury room of ten years ago, and also with her in the present-day as she investigates all of the jurors in an attempt to clear her own name. But the book isn’t Maya’s book alone. Every single juror gets their own chapter, as we see what their frame of mind was during the trial. We get to see the process that each of them went through to arrive at the eventually acquittal of Bobby Nock, and how so little of their journeys had much to do at all with the evidence.
It’s interesting that Graham Moore served on a jury for a murder trial while he was writing The Sherlockian. He has said that this book is not about THAT trial, but that his experience sitting on a two-week jury informed this book in ways that are, frankly, a little unsettling. How many people have been convicted or acquitted because of jury exhaustion? I can’t imagine what being sequestered for months would do to a person, how suggestible it might make one…and how badly the desire to see your family again might make just going along with the majority a very enticing proposition.
I also want to point out that Moore gives a lot of the credit for the success of this book to his late editor, Susan Kamil, who died just a few weeks after she finished editing the book. She was, apparently, brutal with Moore, sending him draft after draft with things like “BORING!” scrawled in the margins. I am a huge believer that editors are the unsung heroes of almost all good books (and that the lack of same leads us to bloated, thousand-page messes. Are you listening to me, Stephen King? Cause 11/22/1963 needed about three hundred fewer pages…)
So, having her contribution acknowledged so directly made my little kitten heart happy.
What else? The mystery is well-constructed, and the race to find out who actually killed Rick is well-paced, and full of red herrings. We don’t really know who did it until we do, and even then, there’s one more surprise in store. I’m pretty sure that I sat here with my mouth gaping open on that reveal.
So. Really, really good. Really good.