Graham Norton’s first novel is small town soft crime, which some may argue is the best sort of crime (they would be wrong: the best sort of crime is the sort solved by cats). Norton’s chat show experience did not merely prepare him for a life of showing tired memes to bemused celebrities; it reveals the deep humanity that pervades Holding.
Small town policeman PJ Collins gave up on his life long ago. When bones are found on a development site, the potential cold case gives him a renewed interest in police work. The bones also pique the interest of local women Brid Riordan, Evelyn Ross and station maid Mrs Meany, each of whom reveal more of themselves to PJ than he has learned in fifteen years in Duneen.
Holding is not a crime procedural so much as it is a character piece, and Norton has an even-handed approach to all of his characters. There’s a quiet tragedy at the core of the novel, and Norton knows that some events in life are harder to recover from than others. This deep understanding of human nature and the heart’s basest desires elevates Holding not to the level of art, but more than just a pastoral scene with an incidental crime for background colour.
PJ is a rarity in that he is an overweight character who is never rendered a figure of fun by the narration or most characters that matter. Holding is a novel about attempting to decipher the stories that people tell themselves and to reevaluate them; it never seems odd or convenient that suddenly two women are showing an interest in PJ, but rather that in opening himself up even just a little bit, they are open to him. The three women who form the core of the plot are well-drawn in their own ways — the Ross family, by design, are just that little bit removed — and, overall, Duneen feels lived in.
Holding is not an edge-of-the-seat thriller; the pages will get turned, but more for the pleasure of PJ’s company rather than out of any desire to solve the case, such as it is. The novel is divided into two parts representing both progress of the case and the stages of PJ and Brid’s lives; plot elements that start as jokes suddenly take on heft and meaning as Norton’s charges realise that their actions and feelings both have consequences. The most eventful section of the book is also its most upsetting; it should be known that not every element of Holding is a delight to take in, and Norton’s hands aren’t entirely clean by the end.
Norton reads the audiobook, and is the perfect accompaniment for it. His voice is soothing and gentle, and this meditation on loneliness is all the more comforting for it. There’s a genuine affection in that voice, and the different tones that he adopts for each character suit them. Not every author is the best choice to read their own material, but Holding’s audiobookemphasises Norton’s multimedia talents.
Holding is a sweet novel that understands its characters, and also that not every crime can be be met with justice or that every trauma can be overcome. There’s some gritty realism mixed in with the clotted cream that PJ is treated to, but overall it makes Holding that much more satisfying to swallow.