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From Graham Norton—the BAFTA-award-winning and hugely popular BBC America television host—comes a charming debut novel set in an idyllic Irish village where a bumbling investigator has to sort through decades of gossip and secrets to solve a mysterious crime. “With its tale of provincial life, gimlet-eyed spinsters, and thwarted love…it feels almost like a Miss Marple mystery written by Colm Tóibín” (New York Times).
The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama, and yet its inhabitants are troubled: Sergeant P.J. Collins hasn’t always been this overweight; Brid Riordan, a mother of two, hasn’t always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn’t always felt that her life was a total waste.
So when human remains—suspected to be those of Tommy Burke, a former lover of both Brid and Evelyn—are discovered on an old farm, the village’s dark past begins to unravel. As a frustrated P.J. struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his professional life, he unearths a community’s worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regrets.
Darkly comic, at times profoundly sad, and “especially inviting because of its tongue-in-cheek wit” (Kirkus Reviews), Holding is a masterful debut. Graham Norton employs his acerbic humor to breathe life into a host of lovable characters, and explore—with searing honesty—the complexities and contradictions that make us human.
I loved the story for the innate small-town sensibilities that just happen to come with an Irish acc
I’ll admit I’m a fan of Norton’s humor and talk show: I’ve watched it for years and love the sense of fun and humor that he brings to each guest’s interview. So when the chance came up to dive into this novel, I was all in. And I have to say that it was wholly different (in all the best ways) than I expected, and the humorous twists that Norton infuses into his characters and situations are pointed, poignant and add greatly to the tale.
Told in third person, Norton switches perspectives between characters smoothly: allowing the reader to get to know them with subtle insets of personality, backstory and current woes. Bones are found as builders are working at an old farm: and as it turns out, they are human and belong to Tommy, who left the village years ago to never be seen again. Tommy left behind Brid Riordan and Evelyn Ross: both had loved him, and neither has exactly the life they dreamed of. Add to this Garda Sargent, and only member of the police, PJ Collins, set it in a small town with little happening, and the gossip, questions and self-discoveries run amok.
PJ is overweight, bordering on morbidly obese, and rarely even has minor vandals to contend with: so a murder mystery seems so far beyond his scope of abilities that much of the story focuses on his being shuffled to a supporting role under DS Linus Dunne in from Cork to run things. PJ has always felt his own lacks far more seriously than anyone else ever truly believed. Food and his weight have become his go-to: hiding from emotions, relationships and building walls to keep himself safe from the constant jibes and judgements. But, when his resentment actually spurs his determination to investigate and discover the story leading to Tommy’s death, he starts to gain confidence and even find a bit of an awakening personally. When you add in Brid, her alcoholism and 2 children that she is raising alone in this small, judgmental Irish town, and mix in Evelyn and her unease with her life not being all it can be, the three become a ripe tapestry of humanity: flawed, noble, secretive, judgmental and even a bit vulnerable.
And this is what Norton does with such grace: he presents the town filled with the things people do and don’t say, but show in every moment. The us versus them moments where outsiders are clearly that, how things are done is everything, and yet, gossip and speculation run through like scent on air. None are immune to it, all take part, and while most isn’t meant to be mean-spirited or malicious, sometimes the result is the same: limiting personalities, personal growth and choices all in the name of belonging. Throughout these tiny (and not so) dramas of spirit that occur regularly, Norton is dropping hints and clues to the true story of Tommy’s disappearance and murder, sifting through the truths, half-truths and outright lies keeps readers engaged as the who and why shift repeatedly throughout the pages. I loved the story for the innate small-town sensibilities that just happen to come with an Irish accent, the characters and the twists that reverberate from the ages-old murder to reveal secrets buried not quite well enough.
I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.