Holding: A Novel

Holding: A Novel

by Graham Norton


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A New York Times Bestseller

From Graham Norton—the BAFTA-award-winning and hugely popular BBC America television host—comes a charming debut novel set in an idyllic Irish village where a bumbling investigator has to sort through decades of gossip and secrets to solve a mysterious crime. “With its tale of provincial life, gimlet-eyed spinsters, and thwarted love...it feels almost like a Miss Marple mystery written by Colm Tóibín” (New York Times).

The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama, and yet its inhabitants are troubled: Sergeant P.J. Collins hasn’t always been this overweight; Brid Riordan, a mother of two, hasn’t always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn’t always felt that her life was a total waste.

So when human remains—suspected to be those of Tommy Burke, a former lover of both Brid and Evelyn—are discovered on an old farm, the village’s dark past begins to unravel. As a frustrated P.J. struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his professional life, he unearths a community’s worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regrets.

Darkly comic, at times profoundly sad, and “especially inviting because of its tongue-in-cheek wit” (Kirkus Reviews), Holding is a masterful debut. Graham Norton employs his acerbic humor to breathe life into a host of lovable characters, and explore—with searing honesty—the complexities and contradictions that make us human.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501173264
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 08/01/2017
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 586,797
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Graham Norton is the award-winning host of The Graham Norton Show, one of the most popular programs on BBC America. He is the author of the bestselling memoirs So Me and The Life and Loves of a He Devil. He lives in London and is the author of the novels Holding and A Keeper.

Read an Excerpt


  • Chapter 1

    It was widely accepted by the residents of Duneen that, should a crime be committed and Sergeant Collins managed to apprehend the culprit, it would be very unlikely that the arrest had involved a pursuit on foot. People liked him well enough, and there was no name-calling as such, but it was still quite unsettling for the village that their safety depended on a man who broke into a sweat walking up for communion.

    This particular morning, however, nobody seemed overly concerned. Main Street, being the only street, contained most of the action. The village was still waiting for winter to arrive, and yet Susan Hickey looked like she was preparing for an Arctic expedition. She was huddled over awkwardly with a wire brush, trying to remove a few patches of rust from her gate. She was also keeping a silent tally of the wine bottles Brid Riordan was placing carefully into the recycling. Sixteen! Had the woman no shame? On the other side of the street, outside the pub, Cormac Byrne coughed up a very satisfying lump of phlegm and dispatched it through the air to land in the gutter. Over by the phone box, the dusty black and white collie dog that belonged to the Lyons from the garage looked up, satisfied himself that everything was as uninteresting as he had assumed and put his head back down between his paws.

    Outside O’Driscoll’s shop, post office, and café, the Garda car, sitting low over its tires, gave the impression of having been there for some time. In the driver’s seat, with his stomach wedged against the steering wheel, sat Sergeant Patrick James Collins. The names had been chosen because his mother’s father, Patrick, had died just six weeks before her son was born, and because his mother was a big fan of James Garner, the actor that starred in The Rockford Files. His father had provided the surname. In retrospect, the care put into his christening was misplaced, since everyone simply knew him as P. J.

    P. J. Collins had not always been fat. On long summer evenings he had played with the other children in the lane at the back of his parents’ shop in Limerick. Kick the can, hide-and-seek, what time is it, Mr. Fox? The high-pitched laughter, accusations of cheating and occasional crying filled the still air of dusk until the clang of a colander or the sizzle of frying onions called them in for their dinner. He missed that feeling of just being one of the gang. He could hardly remember what it felt like not to be noticed or judged. Puberty had brought with it a combination of appetite and inertia that led to a thickening of the skin and the end of his days as one of the lads. He hadn’t needed his mother’s nagging to see what was happening, but somehow, despite constant private vows to get his weight under control, he just got bigger and bigger, until by the time he left school, he felt the task of slimming down was beyond him.

    Looking back, he could see that he had hidden behind his size and used it as an excuse so he didn’t have to compete in all the trials of adolescence. No need to summon up the courage to ask a girl out on a date, because which of the Margarets or Fionas with their long pale necks and shiny hair would want his warm clammy hands holding them on the dance floor? The other boys tried to outdo each other with fancy leather-soled shoes or bright stickers on their bikes, but P. J. knew that no matter what he did, he could never be cool. Being overweight hadn’t made him happy necessarily, but it had helped him avoid a great deal of heartache. It got him off the hook.

    Life as a guard suited P. J. The uniform and the car didn’t make him feel any more alien than he always had, and keeping a strict professional distance between himself and the neighbors he had to police was no great challenge for him. He stared out of the window at the long, slow hill that led the tourists’ cars on towards the coast and the beauty they had been promised. People didn’t stop in Duneen. In defense of the casual traveler, there was little reason why they should. There was nothing to make the village stand out from any other. Wedged into a gentle green valley, jagged terraces of two- and three-story buildings lined the road, painted long ago in the sort of pastel colors usually associated with baby clothes. At the bottom of Main Street there was an old bridge across the River Torne. Beyond that, the solid gray chapel kept watch on a small hill. No one living could recall a time when it had ever looked any different. Time didn’t pass in Duneen; it seeped away.

    P. J. dabbed a damp finger on the toast crumbs in his lap, brought it to his mouth and sighed. Just gone eleven. A good hour and a half till lunch. What day was it? Wednesday. Pork chops. He supposed they’d have the leftover crumble from last night, but then he remembered he had finished that standing in front of the tall fridge just before he went to bed. He blushed slightly as he thought of Mrs. Meany, the housekeeper, finding the bowl in the sink. Tutting as she washed it under the hot water while at the same time planning what new confection she could conjure up to tempt him with. He swore that if it weren’t for her he’d be half the size. Sure, a sandwich would do him for his lunch. He didn’t need two dinners or, come to that, two puddings. He only had the cooked breakfast every morning because she plopped it down in front of him before he could protest. His arm twitched as he imagined slamming the fridge door against her small frame and letting her slump to the floor, no longer able to widen her eyes as she cleared his plate: “Well, no need to ask if you enjoyed that, Sergeant!”

    A knock on the car window interrupted his violent reverie. It was Mrs. O’Driscoll herself from the shop. Normally it would be the daughter, Mairead, or the skinny Polish girl whose name he couldn’t remember but was too embarrassed to ask again. He turned the key, held the window button down, and cleared his throat. He hadn’t spoken since he said good-bye to Mrs. Meany at a quarter to nine.

    “Nice enough again.”

    “It is, thanks be to God. I brought you a cup of tea there, to save you getting out.”

    Mrs. O’Driscoll bared her small neat teeth and laughed. She was being kind, and yet all P. J. heard was a woman laughing at a man his size squeezed into the driver’s seat and reveling in her own slim figure. She held out the cup and saucer with its cloud of steam. Then her other arm shot out, thrusting a plate with a jam-covered scone up to his face.

    “They’re just out of the oven, and that’s the jam from the rector’s wife.”

    “You’re too good to me,” he said with a forced smile. Who knew a simple scone could provoke such a confusion of emotions? He felt patronized, angry, greedy, hungry, and defeated all at the same time.

    “Enjoy that now, and don’t worry, I’ll send Petra out in a minute for the plate. Sure you’ll make short work of it!” Another laugh and she scuttled across the footpath back into the shop.

    P. J. placed the cup and saucer on the passenger seat and picked up the scone. He forced himself to finish it in two bites rather than one and licked the smears of jam from the corners of his mouth. Plate down, saucer up, he took a slurp of tea. On the radio the presenter was asking movie trivia questions. Name the original Ghostbusters. Well, that’s not a hard one. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and . . . who was that other one? He shut his eyes to imagine the face of the actor but instead conjured up the grinning face of Emma Fitzmaurice. Ghostbusters had been their date. He felt the heat of embarrassment course through his body as if it were yesterday. His awkward attempt to angle himself in the small cinema seat so that he could try and put his arm behind her shoulders. The way she looked at him and laughed. No attempt to spare his feelings, just sheer derision. Why had she agreed to come with him? No matter how awkward or humiliating the “no” might have been, it would have been better than staring straight ahead at the screen trying not to cry while her shoulders shook beside him. He had never made that mistake again.

    Another knock at the window. He turned expecting to see . . . what the hell was her name? . . . but instead saw a face he didn’t recognize: a tall man in his late forties with weathered skin and a head shaved to mask the baldness that had come all too soon. He wore a bright yellow hi-vis jacket and carried a hard hat under his arm. P. J. assumed he must be working on the new housing development up behind the primary school. The window slid down.

    “Guard. The foreman sent me down to get you. We’re after finding something up above.” The builder waved his hand in the general direction of the school.

    This was a good feeling. He was needed. After an unhurried sip of tea, P. J. looked up and asked, “What sort of thing?”

    The investigation had begun.

    “It might be nothing. Some of the lads said work on, but myself and the foreman thought somebody better have a look.”

    “Right so, I’ll head on up. Will you sit in with me?”

    “Oh thanks. I will so.”

    P. J. remembered he was holding the cup and saucer, and of course there was the plate as well. This was awkward. It was not the slick sort of modern policeman he wanted to be. He hesitated for a moment and then reminded himself that he was a sergeant and this a mere laborer. He held out the crockery.

    “Would you run those back into the shop there for me like a good man?”

    The builder didn’t move. Was he going to say no? Was he simple? But then without speaking he took the items and headed into the shop, before returning and climbing into the passenger seat. Once inside the car, he seemed much larger than he had on the street. Their shoulders touched. As Sergeant Collins started the engine and put the car into reverse, he placed his hand behind the other seat so he could get a better look out the back window. The awkward maneuver, the physical proximity of another warm body: all at once he was back in the darkness of the cinema with Emma but this time, he thought, nobody was laughing.

    The car rolled backwards with a satisfying crunch of gravel, and then with a smooth change of gear moved quickly across the road and headed up the hill to the east of the village, past the school, towards what had once been the Burkes’ farm. Both Susan Hickey and the collie looked up as the Garda car vanished, leaving a cloud of ancient dust. Sergeant Collins let out an involuntary grunt. For some reason he felt good. He felt like a winner.

  • Customer Reviews

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    Holding: A Novel 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
    gaele More than 1 year ago
    I’ll admit I’m a fan of Norton’s humor and talk show: I’ve watched it for years and love the sense of fun and humor that he brings to each guest’s interview. So when the chance came up to dive into this novel, I was all in. And I have to say that it was wholly different (in all the best ways) than I expected, and the humorous twists that Norton infuses into his characters and situations are pointed, poignant and add greatly to the tale. Told in third person, Norton switches perspectives between characters smoothly: allowing the reader to get to know them with subtle insets of personality, backstory and current woes. Bones are found as builders are working at an old farm: and as it turns out, they are human and belong to Tommy, who left the village years ago to never be seen again. Tommy left behind Brid Riordan and Evelyn Ross: both had loved him, and neither has exactly the life they dreamed of. Add to this Garda Sargent, and only member of the police, PJ Collins, set it in a small town with little happening, and the gossip, questions and self-discoveries run amok. PJ is overweight, bordering on morbidly obese, and rarely even has minor vandals to contend with: so a murder mystery seems so far beyond his scope of abilities that much of the story focuses on his being shuffled to a supporting role under DS Linus Dunne in from Cork to run things. PJ has always felt his own lacks far more seriously than anyone else ever truly believed. Food and his weight have become his go-to: hiding from emotions, relationships and building walls to keep himself safe from the constant jibes and judgements. But, when his resentment actually spurs his determination to investigate and discover the story leading to Tommy’s death, he starts to gain confidence and even find a bit of an awakening personally. When you add in Brid, her alcoholism and 2 children that she is raising alone in this small, judgmental Irish town, and mix in Evelyn and her unease with her life not being all it can be, the three become a ripe tapestry of humanity: flawed, noble, secretive, judgmental and even a bit vulnerable. And this is what Norton does with such grace: he presents the town filled with the things people do and don’t say, but show in every moment. The us versus them moments where outsiders are clearly that, how things are done is everything, and yet, gossip and speculation run through like scent on air. None are immune to it, all take part, and while most isn’t meant to be mean-spirited or malicious, sometimes the result is the same: limiting personalities, personal growth and choices all in the name of belonging. Throughout these tiny (and not so) dramas of spirit that occur regularly, Norton is dropping hints and clues to the true story of Tommy’s disappearance and murder, sifting through the truths, half-truths and outright lies keeps readers engaged as the who and why shift repeatedly throughout the pages. I loved the story for the innate small-town sensibilities that just happen to come with an Irish accent, the characters and the twists that reverberate from the ages-old murder to reveal secrets buried not quite well enough. I received an eArc copy of the title from the publisher via NetGalley for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
    Valerian70 5 months ago
    Duneen is a small, sleepy town where nothing ever happens. But it does and it did and the past is going to come back and haunt them. Set in a modern Ireland it still manages to feel like we are back in the 1950s, with a slower, less connected way of life. The Church has less of a stranglehold on the residents of the town but it's power is still felt, especially by the older generation. People are people though so judgment is passed via the eternal medium of gossip and when a body is discovered the old tales of Brid Riordan and Evelyn Ross fighting over Tommy Burke in the village square are resurrected. PJ, the local Garda, is tasked to find out what happened but this is way beyond his experience so "the boys from Cork" are called in. Who is the body in the old farmstead? Are there more? Who put it there? All questions that need (and indeed are) answered but the investigation is really a secondary thread in this book which deals mainly with the foibles of human nature. It took me almost 60% of the way through the book before I really started to enjoy it. I couldn't really connect with any of the characters and just as I was starting to get a handle on someone's character we would jump to another person's tale and I would lose the thread again. It does all start to pull together very neatly but it does all rely on poor old PJ to hold everything together - never have I seen a sadder character in a book that I felt genuine empathy for; usually they just make me want to slap them. His relationship with the detective from Cork is wonderful and the slow burn of the two men getting to know and like each other (professionally and personally) is wonderfully drawn. It deals with a lot of divergent themes as well. From the rather odd Ross sisters, all spinsters and living together in the old family home - even the village thinks there is something just a bit askew with them. Through weight issues caused by comfort eating, alcoholism, the trauma of assault on a young woman, the black stain of being pregnant out of wedlock and just the difficulties of living. Each issue is dealt with sympathetically and there is no judgment by the author of any character and why they are where they are in life; indeed many of them are given hope for a brighter future. There are moments of wonderful insight in to how people tick in the book, unfortunately it is all encased in the back half of the book and I found it a bit of trial getting to the "good bits". You can actually see Mr Norton's writing style evolve on the page and I can't help but wonder if one additional re-write/edit to tighten up the first half wouldn't have made this a much, much better book.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This was a well crafted novel and an enjoyable read. I hope Graham Norton writes another ,
    BuriedUnderBooks More than 1 year ago
    Time didn't pass in Duneen; it seeped away. When it comes to meandering, laidback crime fiction, this one is it but that's not entirely a bad thing. There's not much in the way of excitement but I found myself quietly entertained and disappointed only because felt that individual characters could have been rounded out a bit more. PJ is an odd duck, sort of drifting through life in his small Irish village, wishing for more but not motivated enough to do anything about it. When human remains are found, he thinks solving the case could lift him out of his dreary life a bit but he doesn't actually have much to go on nor does he really know how to properly investigate. Still, he wants to try in his clumsy way if only he could manage to keep a step ahead of the big city police sent from Cork to investigate and he does have one advantage---he knows his village. As in all small communities, everyone knows everyone else's life history and speculation about these remains immediately calls to mind in the rumor mill the strange disappearance of a young man, Tommy Burke, nearly twenty years ago. The gossip starts up in fine fashion and, soon, PJ is looking into the long-ago story of a guy and two girls. Pretty soon, his habit of walking around the village to observe and get to know the people begins to pay off and he just might get the better of the very patronizing Detective Superintendent Linus Dunne. Three lonely sisters are just a few of the characters who do get a lot of attention and their personal stories give a good deal of weight to this otherwise mildmannered mystery. In fact, in some ways, the mystery takes second place to the village itself and all of its inhabitants, especially PJ himself. This is a man I'd like to get to know better and I hope the author will give us a sequel.
    Tracey_L More than 1 year ago
    I'm a fan of Graham Norton, so when I discovered that he had written a fiction book, I jumped at the chance to read it. I already was familiar with his abilities as a storyteller, and this book did not disappoint. The characters are well-developed and engaging, and the story flows nicely. Mystery is not my usual preferred genre, but this was a very enjoyable read, and I'd be glad to read more from him. I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
    AvidReaderREE More than 1 year ago
    I received an advanced copy from the publisher via Netgalley for an honest review. This novel was surprisingly quite wonderful. I would put this in it's own mystery category of more than a cozy mystery but not as intense as a psychological thriller, however, this one does make you think! This novel follows Sergeant PJ Collins, who is a small town police officer, and two women Brid and Evelyn, who's lives inextricably intertwine as human remains are found on some old farm land. As we are introduced to these characters we find out about their current lives as well as their pasts which brought them to where they are today. This reads like what one would categorize as a cozy mystery because it's just easy and smooth to read. However, with the plot twists and a bit of a psychological bend this is a novel all it's own. To top the wonderful story off we have the witty sense of humor of Graham Norton to boot!!! I would HIGHLY recommend this novel to anyone and I would love to see what our hysterical friend has to offer next!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Well written and great read. Hoping to read more about PJ's new life.
    Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
    This book did not grab me right away, but once it did - I was hooked. The author did such a great job with the characters in this book. I felt like they were real as to the way he developed them. I knew their feelings, their fears and their hopes. This was a great read that I thoroughly enjoyed. While I was hesitant at first about the book, it really didn't take me long to negate that thought and enjoy the journey. Thanks to Atria Books and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Don't stop now Graham, PJ has many crimes to solve and a lady to woo and love. Your fans will want more. Like PJ, you are not at the end of his journey but the beginning of yours. Thank you for giving me many delightful hours in a lovely, gentle Irish village about a little murder.
    Jolie More than 1 year ago
    Holding was a good mystery but it lacks a certain oomph that made me want to put it on my list of favorites. I do not read mysteries. Mysteries, for the most part, bore me. I usually can figure out who the bad guy is about halfway through the book. But something about Holding’s blurb drew me in. Also, that it is set in Ireland was a major selling point too. This book was very well written and the characters all came alive in my mind. I could see myself in the village of Duneen, investigated whose bones were unearthed. I could hear the lyrical Irish accents, which I love. I could see the fields and almost smell the various smells that come with farm life. For a book to get me that immersed in it, which almost never happens, is a very good thing. I love it when a book does that to me. I did figure out parts of the mystery by the middle of the book. But, as soon as I figured out one thing, another would crop up and there was a huge twist at the end of the book. One that took me by surprise. When I say I didn’t see what happened coming, I didn’t see what happened coming and it surprised the heck out of me. What I didn’t like was the triangle that formed between Brid, Evelyn, and PJ. I didn’t think it was necessary for that triangle to mimic the Brid, Evelyn, and Tommy one years earlier. It added unneeded drama. I could see why the author chose to do it, though. It didn’t seem to add anything to the book and kind of annoyed me at times. The end of the book was pretty standard and all the plotlines were wrapped up. Like I said about, I was surprised at the major twist that happened towards the end of the book. I did not see it coming. My Summary of Holding: 3 stars I really enjoyed reading Holding even if I thought that there were some unneeded plotlines. The mystery was truly that, a mystery and the twist at the end of the book did surprise me. The only thing I didn’t like was that I felt almost too much attention was paid to Brid and Evelyn’s lives at times. Other than that, it was a good mystery but nothing that I would reread. Will I reread: No Will I recommend to family and friends: Yes Age range: Adult Why: mild violence, mild language, and sexual situations I would like to find Atria Books, NetGalley and Graham Norton for allowing me to read and review Holding **I chose to leave this review after reading an advance reader copy**
    SusanGwis More than 1 year ago
    When I first saw that Graham Norton had written a book, a fiction book no less, I was a little surprised. I love watching his show. I was even more surprised by the book itself. The story was fantastic. The characters were well written, believable, and richly detailed. I got so into that book that I wasn't able to put it down. I look forward to the next book that Graham writes.
    EPClark More than 1 year ago
    I've been a fan of Graham Norton as a television personality ever since I first saw his delightfully frenetic performances on "Father Ted" back in the '90s, so naturally I had to read this book when I found out about it. "Holding" is equally as delightful as Norton's tv appearances, but different. Instead of urbanity, sly wit, and over-the-top nuttiness, the novel possesses a warmly sympathetic portrayal of rural Ireland. While there's plenty of potential targets for mockery here, and more than a few gently humorous moments, as well as the kind of plot twists you'd expect from a mystery novel, at its heart this is compassionate story of misfits--plump, shy policemen, middle-aged spinsters, unhappy housewives--in a small village where murder is the best entertainment everyone has had all year, maybe all decade. P.J., the local Garda sergeant, has always been on the heavy side, and now, in his fifties, he is heavy enough that he breaks into a sweat "walking up to communion," as we're informed in the opening paragraph. Despite his unprepossessing appearance, he's neither stupid nor lazy, just preternaturally shy, especially around women. He'd like to lose weight but, in one of those little moments of insight that grace the book, everyone keeps feeding him indulgently, and what is he supposed to do? Offend them by turning down their offerings? The discovery of human remains on a building site breaks him out of his rut and sends him digging--sometimes literally--into the past, until the whole sorry story of old heartbreak has been unearthed. Although there's plenty of human frailty here, it's dealt with kindly, with little of the grit of the more hardboiled type of mystery/thriller you get from Norton's fellow Irish writers Stuart Neville or Ken Bruen. "Holding" is more like a cozy mystery, but it's less frilly than that--while readers of cozy mysteries, especially the sort set in rural Ireland, are likely to enjoy it, this book has more depth than your standard paint-by-numbers mystery. The characters all seem like real, relatable people, flaws and all, and the prose style is clean, graceful, and touched with just enough melodic Irish wit to make it charming without being cloying. The book ends with the main mystery resolved, but the main characters' relationships still in a state of flux, hinting at the possibility, perhaps, of a sequel or a series. Short and sweet, this is a lovely little read and a welcome addition to the Irish mystery genre. My thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
    pet1210 More than 1 year ago
    I've liked Graham Norton, who is a well-known TV and radio presenter in the UK, for years. So when I discovered he had written a novel, I was really curious to read it. Set in a small village in Ireland, Holding is a cozy mystery featuring Sergeant PJ Collins whose job as the local Garda has been pretty unexciting for the past twenty or thirty odd years. All that changes when builders developing farmland discover human remains. Could this find be related to the disappearance of a local man who, decades ago, had left behind two brokenhearted women? At times, the mystery aspect became secondary as Norton revealed the painful pasts of the characters. It became a touching and on occasion rather sad novel about unfulfilled lives, about dealing with grief, loss and the constrictions of living in a small Irish community where gossip and judgment are omnipresent. At other times, Norton's wit shined through and made me smile. The writing flowed well and the characters and the setting really came to life. This was enhanced even more by the author's narration of the audiobook. I admit I had wondered beforehand whether Graham Norton's narration would be overly theatrical, but it was actually very understated. He achieved a lot just through emphasis, pacing and subtle changes in voice. Overall, a lovely piece of writing, a gentle mystery but with a compassionate and moving story and a well-narrated, enjoyable audiobook.