After the reading of recent weeks, I found myself in need of something less dark, so picked up Graham Norton’s Holding. I’ve always had a soft spot for Norton, not so much for his TV chat show, but for some of his earlier work, such as his guide to having a Eurovision hit (long before he took over commenting on the real thing) and the supremely irritating Father Noel in Father Ted.
Holding is set in a remote corner of Ireland (at least I’m guessing so, if Cork is seen as the epitome of big-city excitement), in the village of Duneen, where the local policeman tackles his first murder scene at the age of 53. The victim may or may not have been the boy that two women still living in the village had fought over, many years previously, but he had disappeared without a trace. PJ, the overweight cop, finds himself drawn to both women, and his previously unexciting existence suddenly speeds up.
Norton is good on blighted lives, squandered promise, lost loves and quiet desperation. (His role as the Daily Telegraph’s agony uncle may have helped with that.) He largely resists the temptation to go for cheap laughs, and instead paints a somewhat bleak portrait of the role of women in a conservative rural society – not that the men have vastly more in the way of options. As a police procedural, maybe this isn’t strong on realism, but as a portrayal of loneliness and isolation in an out-of-the-way place this is a compelling read.