Where else but in rural Ireland would Graham Norton set a mystery novel? His autobiography describes the passage of feelings described by many who felt they had to get away from rural isolation yet, as in his life, finally come round to accept what it has to offer. So it is a comfortable fit to locate his story in an Irish atmosphere that recognises the range of moods and landscapes that attract its visitors. The ordinariness is even accentuated by the lead character who is a very plump but dissatisfied local Garda officer regularly fed and cared for by his housekeeper, Mrs Meany, once housekeeper to the local priest.
Norton does a very competent job of sketching in the local landscape and locales of interest. Likewise, the local characters are brought to life without any of the fireworks one might anticipate from Norton – either restraint, skill or good editing – or all three.
Apart from PJ Collins, the Garda officer and his housekeeper, there is an old farm with broken prospects inhabited in its faded respectability by three varied spinster sisters. There are the physical remains of another farm (Burke’s) with its attached mystery of a handsome young man who caught a bus out of town and was never seen again and the O’Riordan family especially the young mother Brid who has a husband and matching drink problem. As well, there are village personalities in pub, store and local gossip.
Duneen seems to be quietly sleeping as PJ dreams of what he might have been and still could. Everything changes when builders excavating on the derelict Burke farm uncover a skeleton and the village rumour mill goes into overdrive. There are plenty of twists and turns and interesting personality reveals before all is revealed and somewhat settled again. Along the way, the writing holds attention well in its simplicity and is peppered with such personalities as the ‘outside’ police investigator Linus who, while initially disliked, brings modernity and the breath of change that PJ is looking for in his life.
The resonances from Norton’s real life are neither over-obvious nor hard to find. The one I found most interesting was Brid and her use of alcohol which did resonate with Norton’s expressed relationship with alcohol in his autobiography.
I shouldn’t have to say that this is a surprising well-made and entertaining effort from an unexpected source, but I will. It is equally enjoyable as a mystery read whether one knows of its author or not.