Thursday, December 29, 2016

Review of Holding by Graham Norton (Hodder and Stoughton, 2016)

The village of Duneen is full of lonely souls.  Overweight Sergeant PJ Collins has let life pass him by policing a small rural community where nothing much happens. He’s pampered by his elderly housekeeper, who has been keeping other peoples’ houses for over forty years. The three Ross sisters live together in their old farmhouse, as they have done since their mother died of cancer and father committed suicide when the youngest was still a teenager. Brid Riordan has a least married and has two children, but it is a loveless match and she regularly drinks herself to sleep. When the skeleton of a man is found buried on the old Burke farm, PJ Collins suddenly has a major case to investigate and Evelyn Ross and Brid Riordan are reminded of the source of their discontent and rivalry – the disappearance of Tommy Burke twenty-five years ago. Each blame the other for lost love and suspect the other of murder. PJ’s ambition to solve an old crime is dented by the arrival of a detective from the big city and it soon appears more difficult to unravel than anticipated and to reveal some of the village’s dark secrets.

Comic Graham Norton’s debut novel is a rural police procedural, somewhat in the cozy mode, set in rural Ireland. The story follows Sergeant PJ Collins’ investigation into the circumstances that led to a man being buried at the old Burke farm after his bones were uncovered by workmen. The suspicion is that the bones are those of Tommy Burke, who disappeared twenty-five years previously. At the time he was engaged to be married to Brid Riordan, but was also being pursued by young Evelyn Ross. Neither woman fully recovered when Burke supposedly skipped town never to return, having been seen catching the bus to Cork; Riordan slipping into a loveless marriage and Ross retreating into life as a spinster looking after her two sisters. The discovery of the bones unsettles the lives of both women, who suspect each other of foul play, but provide purpose for PJ, who finally seems to be discovering himself after years of freewheeling loneliness. The strength of the story is the characterisation, especially PJ, Brid and Evelyn, and their interplay. Norton portrays each sympathetically and nicely captures their personalities and frailties. There’s no great surprises in the plot, but it is nicely constructed and builds to an engaging denouement. However, it is a little uneven in its telling, especially with regards to one reveal. Where the tale does suffer a little though is with respect to context. The themes, social relations and Ireland portrayed felt more like a tale set twenty years ago rather than 2016. Moreover, the police procedural elements and social context did not ring true – a small rural village would not have a full-time police station, it would certainly have mobile phone coverage if it had a station, and it is highly unlikely that a brand new housing estate is being built in a rural area in Ireland at present (finishing off a ghost estate, maybe) or anyone is managing to sell sites. In this sense the tale felt nostalgic for an era when Norton left Ireland, rather than being set in the present. Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable read dealing with themes of love, loss, secrets, statis, and loneliness.

No comments: