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If you are unfamiliar with Graham Norton, you have missed out on one of the funniest and most clever comic personalities on the planet. He has had a long-running variety/talk show that can be seen on BBC America (here in the States). Imagine a British version of Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel with a dash of Johnny Carson, plus a quick wit and sense of humor that only those Brits have!

Now, following two memoirs, Norton has penned his first novel. Much to my surprise, it is a mystery. Even more impressive is that it is really, really good. He has set his book in the tiny Irish village of Duneen, and the story plays out like a mix of your favorite tea cozy mystery with a touch of Agatha Christie. The characters are all colorful personalities, yet a feeling of dread and long-buried secrets lies beneath the soil of Duneen, and all is not well.

Our protagonist, and quite an interesting one at that, is the overweight and under-appreciated Sergeant PJ Collins. He is about to go through a grand awakening, and this sleepy little remote village will never be the same when the current case he is working on comes to light. PJ is a sad, lonely man who lives by the mantra that “there were no happy endings in this life, so why bother looking for one?”

"HOLDING is a very clever mystery, a slow burn that ably depicts small-town life and the impact that a tragedy has on all its residents."

He will finally get a chance to be noticed by his superior and, more surprisingly, by someone of the opposite sex. The case that launches his dull career involves bones that are unearthed at a local farm. While the police await the forensic results, speculation abounds throughout Duneen. The popular opinion is that they’re the bones of Tommy Burke, some of whom believe may have been a serial killer. While there is no evidence to support that, one thing is provable: Tommy was having affairs with two different women, both of whom are at the top of PJ’s suspect list.

One of these ladies is part of the trio known as the Ross girls from Ard Carraig. The youngest sister, Evelyn Ross, was rumored to have been connected with Tommy. It is possible that he broke her heart so badly that she may have wanted vengeance for his betrayal. The only thing saving her from being directly blamed for his death is the fact that she is overjoyed that the bones may be his. It might validate for her that he didn't leave her and, in fact, had been near her all along.

The other woman is Brid Riordan, on whose farm the bones were found. Another set of bones belonging to an infant are also discovered there. The question remains: Who buried these bones, and what is the significance, if any, of them being on Brid's farm? To further muddy the situation, PJ actually has a sexual dalliance with Brid during his investigation. The fact that Brid has a philandering husband, who is currently having an affair with a much younger nurse, allows her to enjoy her straying guilt-free.

PJ barrels through this case as it begins to heat up. However, he will not be prepared when his own caretaker, Mrs. Meany, confesses to him how and why she knows the identity of the infant whose bones were unearthed.

HOLDING is a very clever mystery, a slow burn that ably depicts small-town life and the impact that a tragedy has on all its residents. The book’s title remains somewhat ambiguous. A holding is literally a piece of land used for agricultural purposes, but can also refer to a place to keep people, like a prison cell. No one represents this latter definition better than PJ Collins, a man whose quiet existence in this tiny village could easily feel like a prison sentence. The best thing about this novel is that I quickly forgot that it was written by Graham Norton the celebrity and grew to accept him as Graham Norton the mystery writer. I can only hope that a PBS or BBC America miniseries based on HOLDING becomes a reality someday.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on September 15, 2017

by Graham Norton

  • Publication Date: August 1, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • ISBN-10: 150117326X
  • ISBN-13: 9781501173264