I was really excited to dive into this book as last Summer I read Norton’s novel ‘A Keeper’ and it was one of my reading highlights of the year. ‘Holding’ is Norton’s first foray into novel writing, published in 2016, and proved a highly enjoyable and calming read. I decided to take it with me on holiday to Dorset and it was a delightful reading companion in front of a roaring fire!
The novel begins with a discovery of an unidentifiable corpse on an old farm in the small Irish village of Duneen. The task of unravelling the mystery falls down to bumbling, overweight, and out of his depth Sergeant P.J Collins – who despite having served for years as a local policeman, has yet to step up to the plate and tackle any real crime of substance.
As a protagonist Sergeant P.J is highly likeable and I found myself rooting for him from the very first page. Within the first chapter Norton lovably describes P.J’s inability to get in and out of his police car with ease and how the local neighbours deliver his tea and donuts directly to him in his driver’s seat. It is through this clumsy character that Norton’s wit and charm really shines through. His ability to craft such a warm-hearted anti-hero is admirable, and I was more than happy to befriend P.J as he tackled the biggest crime of his career!
Of course, as in any rural village, the local community of gossiping neighbours have their own opinions on the body on the farm and Norton uses the local shop,
O’Driscoll’s, as a meeting place for many characters in the village. As a country girl born and bred I felt Norton captured the hubbub of a rural community perfectly. The stereotypical gossipy women of the village were very recognisable without being over the top and the sleepy town of Duneen came alive through the excitement of the case.
It becomes clear early in the novel that the discovered body is linked to the disappearance of young local lad Tommy Burke, some twenty years or so earlier, and this in turn embroils to women in the case: alcohol-dependent mother of two Brid Riordan and painfully shy, lonely Evelyn Ross, both still feeling the pain of Tommy’s disappearance even year’s later. Norton beautifully captures the pain of heartbreak and both women, ironically, turn to unlucky in love P.J for support, creating a complex love triangle entangled with the case. It is part saddening, part funny, to watch bumbling P.J navigate his relationships with these two women and it is clear Norton has a real flare for writing about character and relationships.
Although I enjoyed the novel, the story is simple. The twists and turns throughout were rarely particularly surprising. I think you can tell this is Norton’s first novel because it lacks the confidence that comes with ‘A Keeper’. I found myself wanting more complexity and greater detail – it would have been lovely, for example, to read more about the context. The novel feels relatively timeless but with Ireland stooped in history I would have liked to read more about the country. Similarly whilst I definitely got a sense of the sleepy village, a greater depth of description for the landscape may have immersed me even more.
Despite this novel being about a murder case, it was a rather cosy and relaxing read. The stakes never felt particularly high and Norton calmly and carefully holds the reader’s hand through a very enjoyable story.
Hope you enjoyed my review and see you next week!