In Holding, the quiet village of Duneen in Ireland is disturbed by the discovery of human remains on a development site. The residents are convinced it’s all that’s left of Tommy Burke, a young man who disappeared years before, but at the time he went missing witnesses had seen him getting on a bus to London. What made him come back and who killed him? For Sergeant PJ Collins, it’s his first real case and his first opportunity to prove his worth, but he seems ill-equipped to deal with a serious crime and the arrival of a city detective means he might not get the chance.
Holding is a surprisingly dark novel from Graham Norton, but his warm humour infuses the narrative especially in the creation of character. Sergeant PJ Collins is an endearing if hapless man who has chosen the easy life. Duneen is the ideal place for someone with his work ethic. He has a status in the village without having to work for it. He’s been content to dish out speeding tickets and cautions, but the human remains force him to re-evaluate his choices. When Detective Superintendent Linus Dunne comes in to oversee the investigation, PJ feels his authority is threatened and is determined to show he deserves his position. They have a natural rivalry, and it would have been interesting to see more of their relationship and how their preconceptions of each other are challenged.
For those who have deeper roots in Duneen, Tommy Burke’s remains have greater implications. Brid Riodan and Evelyn Ross’ lives have been defined by his disappearance. Brid was Tommy’s fiancée, but despite their engagement her love for him was unrequited. Evelyn worked as his cleaner at the farm, and developed an infatuation with him. The two fell out dramatically once Tommy and Brid’s engagement was publicly announced. Tommy’s motivation for marrying Brid might have been money and land, but marrying Evelyn would also have secured him both. Whether Evelyn’s feelings were reciprocated remains unclear.
Embarrassed and humiliated, Brid married another man who didn’t love her. Over the years she develops a dependency on alcohol that helps to numb the pain and rejection. Evelyn takes a different approach, retreating into her family home and the protection of her sisters. She never truly moves on from Tommy, often fantasising about what might have happened to him. During the investigation, both women are drawn to PJ, inviting history to repeat again.
Their almost love triangle detracts from the mystery. Although Holding shows how being confronted by the past, forces the inhabitants of Duneen to face the problems in the present, the reader feels distanced from the murder. Seeing how a police procedural is hindered by the isolated location would have been interesting.
Surprisingly the village didn’t feel like a village. The characters live very separate lives and have very little shared history beyond Tommy Burke.
Holding is an easy read, lulling you into the quiet life of Duneen, but for me it lacked an emotional impact.