Monday, 3 October 2016

Holding by Graham Norton


review by Maryom

The small Irish village of Duneen is a quiet spot where nothing exciting really happens, so the finding of human remains on a building site is huge news! While the experts brought in from Cork follow procedures and take DNA samples away for analysis, the locals have already decided the body must belong to Tommy Burke, who supposedly left the area in a hurry twenty years before. Behind him he left two broken-hearted young woman - Evelyn who believed he was in love with her, and Brid to whom he was engaged. Both of them have stayed in the village, but whereas Brid tried to move on - marrying and having children - Evelyn has moped away the intervening years, living in her family home with her two spinster sisters. 
Local Guardai officer, Sergeant PJ Collins, has on his hands the sort of case he's long dreamed of, but, now in his fifties, is he up to the challenge or will the higher-ups from Cork steal his glory? 



Although I'm generally sceptical when I hear of celebrities writing novels, I must admit I was intrigued when I heard Graham Norton (yes, that chap from the telly) had turned his hand to crime writing. I'd half expected something weird and wacky, but instead it's a cosy crime mystery, something that might have taken place if Miss Marple had visited Ballykissangel - and I loved it!

A story such as this, with no dramatic violence or high speed chases, hinges round well-drawn characters and the gradual unveiling of hidden secrets, and Norton pulls it off excellently. 
Sergeant Collins is a relative newcomer to the area - he's only lived there for fifteen years - so he doesn't remember the drama that accompanied Tommy Burke's departure and has to rely on the collective memories of the village. Everyone seems agreed though, that after a fight in the street between Evelyn and Brid, Tommy upped and left - no one has thought to query his disappearance till now. But, as the murder investigation pursues these leads, a twist (which I won't reveal) changes everything, pointing the accusing finger in a different direction. It's nicely done, and completely believable.

PJ Collins, with his weight problems and general dissatisfaction with life, might be a little on the stereotypical side, but Evelyn and Brid shine out as real people. Evelyn is middle-class, sheltered, elegant, a woman who belongs somewhere more 'exotic' than Duneen, but shocking things marked her while young, and her life doesn't seem to have moved on since Tommy left. Brid, on the other hand, has tried to make a life for herself but is coming to realise how fake it is - and has turned to alcohol to fill her emptiness. 

Events unfold against the backdrop of village life - a church fete, an amateur music recital, an evening at the (only) pub, the day to day school run or grocery shop - and it's easy to imagine living in this normally pleasant peaceful place. In fact, as the story ends and PJ heads out of Duneen in search of greater excitement in a city job, I was reluctant to leave Duneen behind. I half suspect PJ and his city boss Linus Dunne might be back in another story - if so I hope it's the same style of gentle murder mystery, not anything gritty and gruesome.

Maryom's review - 4.5 stars 
Publisher - Hodder and Stoughton
 
Genre - Adult crime murder mystery

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