By Ekta R. Garg
August 16, 2017
Release date: December 13, 2016
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
An officer in a small Irish town finds himself looking into a mystery that turns into a murder investigation. When he starts to dig for details, however, he realizes that the residents of the town may be hiding more than they’re sharing. Irish television personality and memoirist Graham Norton offers readers his debut novel full of charming characters and an old-fashioned mystery in the endearing book Holding.
It’s no secret that Sergeant P.J. Collins struggles with his weight, but then, in a town like Duneen, people notice things like that because there’s not much else to notice. The town’s residents spend quite a bit of time in one another’s lives, both figuratively and literally. P.J. doesn’t mind—so much—that Duneen doesn’t experience much crime. It means he doesn’t have to run around and work up a sweat.
When construction workers discover the remains of a body on a farm in town, P.J. experiences excitement and dread by turns. He finally has the chance to prove his chops as a garda, but he also comes face to face with the reality of an actual investigation. This isn’t some scuffle at O’Driscoll’s shop. It’s an honest-to-goodness body of someone who most likely got killed.
The investigation becomes personal to several people when speculation arises that the remains belong to Tommy Burke, a young man who people say left Duneen decades earlier. P.J. finds out that two of the women in town used to be in love with Tommy. One of them wanted to marry him, the other one actually got a proposal, and neither of them have seen him since his disappearance.
Despite his interviews of the women, though, P.J. can’t seem to get any straight answers. The women’s family and friends also get roped into the investigation, which starts to spiral outwards from Duneen. As he works with an investigator from a larger town nearby, P.J. learns more about the women who loved Tommy and other members of the community. Additional surprises during the inquiry bring up more questions, and P.J. realizes the residents of Duneen may be closer to one another than anyone understands.
Author Graham Norton creates a familiar community in Duneen and its citizens. He builds a comfortable place and a lovable, bumbling protagonist in P.J. Collins. Norton doesn’t waste time making P.J. appeal to readers; from the first page of the book, they know exactly what P.J. thinks of himself and how others view him in terms of his bulky size. It makes P.J.’s successes and failures during the investigation feel that much more important.
Norton doesn’t allow stereotypes about obesity pigeonhole P.J., however. The sergeant is smart and intuitive; he’s just never been challenged before, and this story is as much about his awakening to himself as an investigator as it is a mystery in the classic sense. Readers reap the benefits of a story that twists and turns while enjoying the quirkiness of a small town in Europe.
The supporting characters do their jobs in the most capable of ways. Superintendent Linus Dunne, at first glance a foil to P.J., garners some sympathy for his own personal issues. Brid Riordan, the town’s resident alcoholic, fights her addiction with tenacity that anyone could admire. Evelyn Ross, the third of a trio of spinster sisters, pines for Tommy while trying to maintain that she’s moved on with her life. All these people and others in the book come across as complicated, regular people, and readers will enjoy every single one.
Some readers may guess some of the surprises before the characters do, but Norton invites his audience into his story world with a gentle approach that appeals to all the sensibilities of a reader who just wants to enjoy a good book. Like other European authors Norton writes from an omniscient point of view, so it takes a few pages to acclimatize to the impromptu change from one character to another. The town of Duneen and the problems of its inhabitants, however, provide enough of a distraction from the head hopping.
Those who like a mystery about a faraway place with characters who feel like they could live next door will thoroughly enjoy Holding. I recommend readers Bookmark it.