This was one of those NetGalley recommends books, and it took the publishers ages to come back to me after I’d applied for it. It’s a quirky blurb, as I think you’ll agree, and I was drawn to it. I hadn’t any experience of the author, but unfortunately they hint about his career in the blurb, and the Goodreads biog is right there, so I couldn’t miss it. That may have affected the way I read the novel, I don’t know. Having piqued your interest, here’s the review!
Graham Norton’s masterful debut is an intelligently crafted story of love, secrets and loss.
The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn’t always been this overweight; mother of two Brid Riordan 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 are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke – a former love of both Brid and Evelyn – the village’s dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community’s worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.
Darkly comic, touching and at times profoundly sad. Graham Norton employs his acerbic wit to breathe life into a host of loveable characters, and explore – with searing honesty – the complexities and contradictions that make us human.
The main problem with this book is that the author’s voice, so distinctively familiar to British readers, wouldn’t go away. I could hear him reading this to me the whole time. That could be a plus; he’s an engaging personality (although he’s also profoundly irritating to some), and he does have an Irish accent, so it helps the sense of place.
And the sense of place is something this book excels with. Both place and time, including the desperation of the teenagers in the 1960s to touch any part of the world they read of in magazines, are deftly woven through beautifully crafted prose. The story is full of description, which keeps it at a pace suitable for the location, but equally will keep some readers in fits of frustration. The characters are also well-built, sometimes literally, and the author certainly gets inside the head and heart of his overweight – okay, obese – protagonist. The trouble with the characters is that they are very familiar from all sorts of rural episodes, heading towards stereotypes. This makes any pretence at a cosy mystery superfluous, as it’s pretty obvious from the start who the body is, even with the misdirection, which only serves to confirm deeper suspicions that are finally released near the end.
I was reminded of an infographic I saw recently distinguishing between the genres, crime, mystery and suspense. If only I could remember the detail. But I think this falls into the heading of ‘suspense’ since you know early on who of three did it, and the flags are pointed early enough for you to narrow it down to the (right) one, but there still remains an interest in how they get found out and whether they get their comeuppance.
After getting through the first character exposition, I found the extended journeys back into the histories of each inhabitant tedious. I suspect many readers will find the same. It’s well written, and a good first novel, but has its faults, not least tendency to wallow. I wonder if it would have reached the surface of the publishing wannabe heap had the author not been well-known? I wonder if I would have read it differently if I had remained in ignorance of his identity? We will never know.
A good first novel; fluffy but enjoyable. 3 Goodreads stars and 4 for Amazon.
PS I still have no idea what the title is about.