I’ve been a fan of Graham Norton as a television personality ever since I first saw his delightfully frenetic performances on “Father Ted” back in the ’90s, so naturally I had to read this book when I found out about it. “Holding” is equally as delightful as Norton’s tv appearances, but different. Instead of urbanity, sly wit, and over-the-top nuttiness, the novel possesses a warmly sympathetic portrayal of rural Ireland. While there’s plenty of potential targets for mockery here, and more than a few gently humorous moments, as well as the kind of plot twists you’d expect from a mystery novel, at its heart this is compassionate story of misfits–plump, shy policemen, middle-aged spinsters, unhappy housewives–in a small village where murder is the best entertainment everyone has had all year, maybe all decade.
P.J., the local Garda sergeant, has always been on the heavy side, and now, in his fifties, he is heavy enough that he breaks into a sweat “walking up to communion,” as we’re informed in the opening paragraph. Despite his unprepossessing appearance, he’s neither stupid nor lazy, just preternaturally shy, especially around women. He’d like to lose weight but, in one of those little moments of insight that grace the book, everyone keeps feeding him indulgently, and what is he supposed to do? Offend them by turning down their offerings? The discovery of human remains on a building site breaks him out of his rut and sends him digging–sometimes literally–into the past, until the whole sorry story of old heartbreak has been unearthed.
Although there’s plenty of human frailty here, it’s dealt with kindly, with little of the grit of the more hardboiled type of mystery/thriller you get from Norton’s fellow Irish writers Stuart Neville or Ken Bruen. “Holding” is more like a cozy mystery, but it’s less frilly than that–while readers of cozy mysteries, especially the sort set in rural Ireland, are likely to enjoy it, this book has more depth than your standard paint-by-numbers mystery. The characters all seem like real, relatable people, flaws and all, and the prose style is clean, graceful, and touched with just enough melodic Irish wit to make it charming without being cloying. The book ends with the main mystery resolved, but the main characters’ relationships still in a state of flux, hinting at the possibility, perhaps, of a sequel or a series. Short and sweet, this is a lovely little read and a welcome addition to the Irish mystery genre.
My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.