Ann Cronin reviews everyone's favourite talk-show host's first fiction outing.
Set in a rural village in West Cork, drama and crime are not very frequent occurrences for the dull residents of Duneen. Sergeant PJ Collins is yet to solve a significant case, Brid Riordan is seemingly an emotionally unstable alcoholic and Evelyn Ross lives an unfulfilled life. However, the discovery of human remains uncovers years of supressed secrecy and soon we see the supposedly dull villagers reveal years of anger and regret. As the investigation into the murder provokes years of dangerous knowledge and deep resentment, we get an insight into the dark reality of this tight-knit community and unearth a lifetime of experiences that could have turned any of the village’s inhabitants towards the ultimate crime.
Norton adopts the second person narrative in this novel, giving us an in depth insight into the thoughts, experiences and views of many characters. PJ Collins is an over-weight and idle officer who has done nothing of significance throughout his career. Duneen has provided him with no opportunities to do something worthwhile with his life, until the human remains are found. PJ is determined to prove himself as a worthy law enforcer and solve this rare and unheard of crime. Both Brid Riardon and Evelyn Ross are ex-lovers of Tommy Burke, a young “player” who supposedly fled from Duneen many years ago. It is immediately presumed that Tommy Burke is the discovered body, leaving the two women as prime suspects in the murder. Other characters’ point of views are adopted throughout the novel as well, and we follow the investigation along with the residents of Duneen.
I was pleasantly surprised by Norton’s debut novel. The characterisation was very realistic and relatable. The residents of Duneen are average Irish citizens on the surface but show a more complex persona underneath. They were well developed, easy to grow attached to and there was an undeniable progression to them that mirrored human growth and its complexities.
Considering this is his first attempt at fiction writing, Norton’s plot and storyline development were very consistent. One is left with several questions at almost every stage of the story and the essential desire to continue reading was generally very strong, especially after the first quarter of the novel. However, it is very clear that this was an author who didn’t have experience with creating cliff-hangers and suspense. I found that the questions I needed answers to and my need to continue reading came from my attachment to the characters and not because the plotline was especially gripping. In conclusion, I will admit that my opinion may be slightly biased towards my tendency to care for characters just as much, or maybe more so, than I do for the quality of a plotline. The ending was a bit predictable and slightly rushed but Norton’s decision to include an epilogue gave the novel an enjoyable conclusion and a satisfying finish.
I do think that bearing the fact that Norton is an amateur writer in mind left me to conclude that this is a very decent and well developed adaption of the classic murder mystery.
Progression and development can often be absent from a writer’s debut. The ending was a bit predictable and rushed but Norton’s decision to include an epilogue gave the novel an enjoyable conclusion and a satisfying finish.
One can easily grow tired of novels involving human remains and murder investigations as these can become dull and unoriginal plotlines. Although it is not a unique idea, I think that Holding is a good take on the classic murder mystery as it includes relatable sub-plots.
The novel does have a slightly outdated feel. Initially, I thought it was set a decade or two in the past. The village and lifestyle of the characters do not hold many modern qualities. It was not until a brief mention of internet service that I realised this novel is set in present day. I am taking into account that the novel could purposely be set away from modern technology advancements to highlight that the village is stuck in the secretive era of old Ireland. Obviously the inclusion of the modern lifestyle is not necessary in a plot, but I did get the impression that Norton was very focused on and inspired by the Irish setting and lifestyle that he grew up in, rather than the current way of life. Whether or not this is a good view for a novel like this to adopt is up to the reader’s personal opinion, but I found it to damage the realistic qualities of the plot.
All in all, this novel is one that I definitely think deserves to be critiqued as a stand-alone piece of literature by a new author, and not the production of a successful talk show host. I can agree that it would not have had as much success if Norton wasn’t such a high-profile figure and a highly admired Irish export. Holding is not a ground breaking piece of modern literature. It is not unique and outstanding, but it does show a great potential and understanding of the qualities that make a novel stick with a reader, and because of this I am happy to acknowledge Graham Norton as a budding author