Holding by Graham Norton

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Set in Duneen, a sleepy, timeless Irish village this novel would be ideal for an audio book. It perfectly encapsulates the humorous, gossipy voice of Graham Norton as it tells the tale of a fat village guard who bumbles his way through the first real crime investigation that Duneen has ever seen. Guard Patrick James Collins is known to everyone as PJ and in the 15 years as Sergeant his job has largely involved issuing licenses and checking tax discs until one day a builder turns up some human bones on an old farm and PJ finally feels like a winner.

Up on the old Byrne farm the remains of a young man have been unearthed and speculation runs like wildfire through the village that it must be the body of Tommy Burke who vanished some twenty years ago. Suddenly old romances are dragged back into the light of day for handsome Tommy had been engaged to one girl and soft on another before his mysterious disappearance.

Set apart from the village live the spinster Ross sisters, Abigail, Florence and Evelyn. Their lives have been blighted with tragedy and loss and their family home, Ard Carraig, seems to attract sadness. Sweet Evelyn’s heart was broken beyond repair when Tommy vanished without a word.

On the other side of town lives Brid. Never an attractive girl she had lacked suitors until her father’s sudden death meant she inherited his farm. Then suddenly a stream of unattached young men with farming in mind arrive to court to the young woman. Amongst them was handsome Tommy and Brid had thought herself the luckiest girl alive when he proposed. Notice of the engagement was posted and the village buzzed with joy, until Evelyn, seething with jealousy and disappointment, launched herself at Brid in the middle of the street and the young women fought for their man. Oddly that was the same day that Tommy left town, the gossips had it that he was seen boarding the bus with a small suitcase and nothing had been seen of him since.

So this is the tangled web that PJ has to unravel and his investigations affect him as much as they affect those he must question. Unwittingly, gentle PJ finds himself caught up in the lives of the two very different women and in doing so discovers a new side to his nature.

Entertaining, skilfully layered and gently revealing of the characters’ flaws and foibles this is an engaging and cosy read. The language is full of imagery and I was surprised at how well the private thoughts and emotions of the characters were conveyed in just a few words e.g. “She felt transparent without the dark cloud of the past trapped inside her”. Each character was sufficiently developed and individual for the reader to get inside their psyche and sense for just a moment what it might feel like to be a fat, sweaty Guard or a lonely, heartbroken woman. That said it isn’t high literature but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would heartily recommend it to those who like Agatha Raisin, Miss Marple, or Midsomer Murder

 

Like buttery toast and a hot cup of tea when you’re home feeling poorly on a winter’s day. It rates 4 bites from me.

I received an advance copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Bookeaters always say what they think. The hardback will be released on 6th October

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

City of Angels, Then and Now.

Crime The Good and the Bad

I’ve been a fan of crime novels for longer than I care to remember but have never given any consideration to the ethnic origin of the writers. When asked to write this feature I did a quick review of my reading over the last year or two and found to my dismay that there was not a single black crime writer on my reading list. To rectify this I went on to Amazon and searched for Crime/Black Authors there are quite a few, but nothing like as many as I expected. I selected two novels, based on them both having great reviews, both featured black detectives based in LA. The first of these was

Trail of Echoes by Rachel Howzell Hall.
img_2277This novel was about a feisty wise-cracking, black female LAPD homicide detective, Lou Norton. If there were any wisecracks I failed to spot them and as for being feisty, when reprimanded by her boss for something that was not her fault, she went to the ladies and cried and cried until she threw up. How feisty is that? The plot was the usual “Serial killer must be stopped before he strikes again” which has been flogged to death in recent years. The serial killer taunts the police with coded messages, once again a well-worn story-line.
Nevertheless I persevered, after all it had enjoyed rave reviews but things didn’t get any better. The publishers blurb made much of the relationship between Lou and her partner Detective Taggert (Yes, Taggert). However, Lou treated him like an office boy, his character was one dimensional and he played no part in solving the crime, which begs the question “What relationship?”
Set in one of the most deprived areas of LA much of the dialogue was written in the local argot which was fine, but when words like “Cuz” slipped over into the narrative I found it irritating. I was left with the impression that Ms Howzell Hall had churned out a potboiler in the hope that it would be made into a TV movie. The main problem with this book was that the principal character was not the least bit likable and the rest of the characters were mere cyphers.

My second choice was Charcoal Joe by Walter Mosley.
img_2278This is a masterpiece of crime fiction. The plot is original, set in 1968 a bright young black guy with a master’s degree and studying for a doctorate is falsely accused of murder. Private detective Easy Rawlins is asked to help prove his innocence. Walter Mosley has a gift for characterisation, after only a few pages you know that Easy is a nice guy, and an honourable man. (As far as circumstances will allow a black man to be honorable in 1968 LA). The plot is multi layered and the cast of characters is huge, but Mosley’s quick sketches of each character make it simple to remember who’s who. There are Good men who are capable of violence, there are gangsters and petty criminals, beautiful women, liars, cheats and cowards, shades of Damon Runyan. The prose is sparse and leads the story on at a cracking pace.
Running through the book is the casual racism of LA society and the police. (The book is set just after the Watts Riots). Simple statements such as: Easy cannot be seen with a white female passenger in his car otherwise he will be pulled over, the falsely accused boy is black. Therefore, he is guilty, really bring home the insidious racism. Despite the racism Walter Moley imbues the black community with a sense of hope and optimism. Optimism that is misplaced, as Rachel Howzell Hall paints a far darker picture in 2015 Los Angeles, where racism is endemic and hope is replaced by despair.
I loved this book I will definitely be reading more of the Easy Rawlins novels’. Charcoal Joe was a masterclass in how to write I crime novel. I liked the characters, even some of the bad guys, I enjoyed the wisecracks, I cared about Easy and Feather Sure there were a couple of flaws but I simply didn’t care about them as I was too busy rooting for the good guys and enjoying the story.
Black crime writers, just like white crime writers some are good, some are not. Why are there not more black authors writing crime fiction? I don’t know.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton. I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 - set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again. I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I'll read anything.