Graham Moore – The Holdout

Graham Moore – The Holdout

A reunion they have never really wanted since all of them only wanted to forget what happened ten years ago. When lawyer Maya Seale is first approached by Rick, she refuses, but her boss convinces her to take part. They were the jury on the most popular case of the time: 15-year-old Jessica had vanished and was supposedly murdered by her teacher Bobby Nock with whom she obviously had had an affair. Even though the body had never been found, the whole country was convinced that the black man had killed the daughter of a rich Californian real estate mogul. However, the jurors followed Maya’s arguing in finding Bobby not guilty. It took Rick, one of the jurors, a decade of his life to investigate privately and now, he has come up with new evidence he wants his co-jurors and the whole world to see. They return to the hotel where they were kept away from the public for months, but then, Rick is found dead – in Maya’s room. All is just too obvious: the one person who is responsible for the killer of a young girl running free now wants to protect herself by keeping the evidence secret. Thus, consequently, Maya is arrested.

The reader follows Maya Seale in her quest to prove her innocence. You know from the beginning that she is not a reckless killer and that she’s got nothing to hide, but much more interestingly than this already answered question is the one about the legal system: Maya’s chances of being acquitted from murder rise tremendously if she pleads guilty of manslaughter – there does not seem to be a chance of just telling the truth and it simply being acknowledged. So the interesting question actually is: how does the truth have to be framed, or to put it more explicitly: manipulated, to get the result you want?

Graham Moore’s “The Holdout” is a real page-turner. Once you have started, you cannot simply put the novel aside. It is fascinating to see how the law works, to follow the arguing of the lawyers and their weighing the different versions of truth. I also liked how the author created a jury of very peculiar individuals who all have their small secrets they want to hide. Yet, ultimately, they all come out, some with more, others with less consequences. The big mystery looming over the whole story is who killed Jessica Silver and why. This is very cleverly solved but also challenges the reader’s moral value system. At the end of the day, life is complicated and, at times, you have to weigh different perspectives against each other and you may come to the conclusion that one version of truth might be better than another.

A gripping legal thriller full of suspense and a lot of food for thought.

Steve Cavanagh – TH1RT3EN

Steve-Cavanagh - Thirteen
Steve Cavanagh – Th1rt3en

It’s one of the biggest murder trials New York has seen for some time and all the country is waiting for actor Robert „Bobby“ Solomon to be convicted for the double murder of his girlfriend and her lover. Chances for Bobby are low, all the evidence is clearly against him: he was at the crime scene, blood all over, he left a finger print on a dollar note which was found on the victims, the murder weapon, a baseball bat, belongs to him and has his prints and blood of the victims all over. And he does not have an alibi for the time of the deed. Yet, there is another factor which will make sure that Bobby goes to jail: the murderer is on the jury. But, the killer didn’t anticipate Eddie Flynn, Bobby’s defence attorney, who looked his client in the eyes and saw that this man is innocent. So there must be someone else to blame. Let the game begin.

Steve Cavanagh’s legal crime novel has a rather slow start, but then it takes up pace and suddenly you can only wonder what unfolds in front of you. A brilliant puzzle and fight between two highly intelligent combatants who quickly combine facts and spectacularly try to outplay the enemy. “Th1rt3en” is the fourth novel of the Eddie Flynn series which can also be read without knowledge of the preceding books. For the third of the series, “The Liar”, Steve Cavanagh was awarded the Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger in 2018.

The novel clearly lives on the fight between the killer and the lawyer. Both are highly interesting characters and certainly equal in many respects. On the one hand, Joshua Kane who seems to have perfected crime and taken killing to a higher level. It is brilliant how he proceeds and does not only care about the murder itself but also about what follows after. On the other hand, it seems as if nothing can stop Eddie Flynn, his sharp intellect guarantees clever tactical manoeuvres and seeing things that other might overlook.

It’s the classic fight of good versus evil integrated in a complex story. When the actual trial starts, the plot accelerates and suspense rises enormously. It is fascinating to follow the story line and see how all pieces finally fall into places. Even though there are some blunt and brutal murders, “TH1RT3EN” is a rather demanding and intellectual thriller that demands all your attention and concentration, something I highly appreciate.

John Marrs – The Passengers

john-marrs-the-passengers
John Marrs – The Passengers

“Who in their right mind would want to send someone to their death?”

Cadman read the tablet he held

“Approximately two hundred thousand people so far – and that’s based only on what’s trending on Twitter.”

When mental nurse Libby is called into a jury to decide on accidents caused by self-drive cars, she is astonished since she never kept her position on those a secret. Having witnessed an evil crash, she is absolutely against handing over control to AI. But she never expected the outcome of her jury session, nobody in there would ever have expected this. Soon after they started, the system is taken over by a Hacker claiming to have taken over eight self-drive cars and threatening to have them collide in two and a half hours. The jury has the chance to save one of them, should they not comply with his rules, he would immediately kill one after the other. But not only the jury would be there to judge, also the world outside could be part of the show and have their vote via social media. It’s the show of the year and the prize is high: it’s your life and you aren’t even asked if you want to take part in it.

John Marrs’ thriller really caught me by surprise and left a deep impression. Not only is the story masterly crafted with many unexpected twists and turns, no, it also mirrors our own behaviour in many different ways thus making you flinch at times because you recognise yourself and feel ashamed soon after. It surely is an absolute must-read for everybody using any kind of technology.

I hardly know where to begin with this novel. There are so many topics and layers that don’t make it easy to find a beginning. First of all, the setting of this evil game. Forcing people to make a decision over life and death is not just unfair, it is impossible. Yet, given no other way out, the jury has to come to a decision based on the information they have and only later do they find out that core aspects have been omitted which cast a completely different light on the person they have just sentenced to death. As a reader, you follow their verdict and often agree – running into the open knife just like they did. All passengers have something evil they hide, but the world isn’t simply black and white and only the whole picture provides you with what you would have needed to know before coming to a final decision. Too often we come to a conclusion fat too soon before we know all we should.

Second, the role of technology in our life surely should be questioned a lot more. The self-drive cars could definitely help to ease the situation in frequently gridlocked cities, on the other hand: what’s the price we pay for this? Providing more from the novel would spoil the fun, but as could be assumed, there is much more behind that we undeniably should think about before welcoming all technological advances. Also the role of social media should be seen a lot more critical than we do at the moment. Marrs goes so far as to give Twitter a vote – without anybody knowing who or what is behind it.

The protagonists also are very interesting in their own ways. Not just Libby, but also the passengers and of course Jack Larsson, the minister, are carefully drawn and offer a lot questionable traits of character.

I am totally flashed by this ambitious novel for which I am actually lacking the words to honour it.