Graham Norton’s debut novel takes us to rural Ireland and the village of Duneen. There we find no mobile phone signal, an all-one shop, post office and café on one side of the main street and a pub on the other. It’s on that street, while having a cup of tea and scone, that Garda Sergeant Collins is interrupted. Human remains have been found on an old farm and the lives of Duneen’s residents are about to unravel as the body’s past is revealed.
As a reader it’s good to step back from the celebrity status of the author. If you didn’t you might expect glitz or glamour but there is none of the city life here. Instead we are presented with a body, a mystery and insight into close-knit rural life. Sergeant ‘PJ’ Collins is a curious choice of main character. He’s overweight, sex-starved (which makes for a few uncomfortable moments), and unheroic. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing though he is a character that needs to grow on you.
In fact they all seem to need a second chance at making a first impression. At the beginning it feels like the author has a slight bitterness towards the village way of life. The characters feel more like caricatures rather than people with their own lives.
Around a quarter of the way in we stop being told what to think about the characters and their situation and are left with their actions doing the talking. At this stage it becomes a much more comfortable novel. The story takes traction and the characters become more realistic though I don’t know if any of them become truly likeable. Maybe, in the end, Bird Riordan does, as she’s the character that gets the most grounded thread in this crime story.
And it is a crime story. There is a body with a who/whydunit element ticking over in the background. There isn’t much to go on as the body has been buried for a good few years with only recent building work leading to its discovery. It is also a love story, and a story about love.
After the descriptions of the characters it’s hard to see this one event flicking the kind of switches that it does. It’s easy to see buried secrets coming to the surface as the police, PJ and the visiting Detective Superintendent Dunne, start looking for clues. Again Norton makes Dunne unlikeable to both PJ and the reader before revealing a softer and sympathetic side.
By the time we’re told how the body got to where it did all the plot twists have been turned and the guesses have been made and the shouting of ‘idiot’ at one of the characters has happened. The story has reached the point where it needs an ending. It gets a satisfying one – even one that’s quite surprising in a few ways. Norton manages to leave open the last lingering question of what happens to the characters next.
Overall, a solid enjoyable debut that needs you to give the characters and the author a second chance at a first impression.