Holding

holding

 

Holding

By Graham Norton

 

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.

 

In a small Irish village live a cast of characters quietly getting on with their lives. Three spinster sisters living in the big house, Brid, an alcoholic mother of two and an overweight police sergeant, amongst others.

Their lives are turned upside-down when human remains are discovered on a local farm. It is strongly suspected that the remains belong to Tommy Burke, a former love of two of the ladies in the village: Brid Riordan and Evelyn Ross. It is up to Sergeant P.J. Collins to uncover the secrets and lies that have been buried as long as the unfortunate young man.

I was unsure what to expect from this book: Graham Norton’s sense of humour or a crack at a serious novel. What I got was a Maeve Binchy-like cosy crime; and that, my friends, is not a criticism. I thought the book was full of heart, emotion and, yes, some small notes of humour.

I thought the snapshot of remote village life with its surface pleasantries and seething depths was superbly drawn. The characters, whether likeable or not were always interesting and moved the plot along very nicely. I particularly liked P.J. the sergeant investigating the mystery. Not your usual brash police officer, more a man who has suffered a crisis of confidence most of his life, but slowly grew as the story wound on. I would love to see more from him and how he evolves.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable first novel. It is a real page turner with a good plot at its heart.

I also have to say I absolutely adore the cover and could look at it and stroke it all day long. But that’s probably just me.

Many thanks to the publishers for sending me a copy via Netgalley.

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Guest Post: Caimh McDonnell author of debut novel, A Man With One Of Those Faces

Today I am delighted to have author, comedian and television writer, Caimh McDonnell on the blog, with an hilarious guest post about friendship, estate agents and the dangers inherent in being a serial killer. His debut novel A Man With One Of Those Faces is out now…Enjoy.

a-man-with-one-of-those-faces

     How to Dump a Body

Picture the scene – it’s August 2002 in a stifling hot Shepherd’s Bush, London and I have a body to get rid of.

In many ways it was a simpler time …

A version of the band the Sugababes were topping the charts while containing people we actually recognised as being in the Sugababes. There had been a World Cup which Brazil had won as they are always supposed to, and the cinema was being dominated by a trilogy of small indie films about a little hairy fella trying to throw a ring into a volcano.

At the time, I was living with my friend Gary. He was ‘living our dream’, by which I mean he had given up his day job and was working full-time as a stand-up comedian. I, on the other hand, was gigging, getting by on a few hours sleep and providing some of the poorest quality IT support the City of London had ever seen. Was I jealous of Gary? Maybe a little, but this is not why I wanted to kill him.

We’d been in our first floor apartment for a few months. Our estate agent Phil had been very good at his job. His suit was so shiny you couldn’t look directly at him without risking blindness and oh my god could that man lie. In our defence, as soon as we’d walked into the flat, we had noticed the very large fridge freezer in the sitting room. Phil had cooed excitedly, ‘look guys – extra freezer space!’ Yes, I know, I know – obviously it meant the one in the kitchen didn’t work but the time for you to point that out was 14 years ago.

We were on a budget. Gary was able to lie in bed and touch all four walls of his bedroom simultaneously, while I was choosing to believe that the scrabbling noise I kept hearing in the roof was a neighbour’s pet. Phil had lied about everything. The landlord was putting new furniture in (he wasn’t). The electricity wasn’t on a meter (it was) and Yvonne from his office had a thing for comedians (she did, but as our subsequent phone calls about the furniture proved, that thing was contempt).  Did I want to kill Phil? No, too risky. I’m pretty sure he had a lot of friends in hell already, or as they no doubt referred to it, a bijou fixer upper in a wonderfully warm climate.

I’d gone up to the Edinburgh Festival to do a few shows for a week. My reviews had been stellar – ‘also on’ The Scotsman. ‘Other acts included’ Three Weeks. No journalist had actually spelt my name correctly but I was taking great heart from the fact that they were definitely getting closer. Gary was also north of the border and was receiving honest-to-god rave reviews, which contained adjectives and everything, and his name was spelt correctly.  Was I envious? Only a little – but that was not why I wanted to kill him.

I returned to our West London apartment at around 11pm on a balmy evening, in the midst of that rarest of things – an English heatwave. The first thing I’d noticed upon entering the building was the smell. It was like a punch in the face as soon as you opened the front door. It smelt like death. It was.

I went upstairs and opened the door to our apartment, keen to get away from the smell. It turns out I was heading for the source. I opened the door to be greeted by a puddle of blood in the centre of our front room.

There was blood everywhere. It was running down the front of the fridge freezer, covering our DVD collection, making a cuddly toy pig I’d won from a grabby machine at 3am in a motorway services, now look like an extra from a particularly violent Tarantino film.

Once I’d finished retching, it quickly became apparent what had happened. You see Gary, while he was living the dream, he wasn’t actually making a living. He was getting by on savings and whatever meagre fees he could get from gigging. He was also a master at stretching a quid, often to breaking point. His pathological dislike of all things vegetables meant he was constantly on the lookout for bargain meat, two words that should never go together. Just before he’d left for the Edinburgh Festival, he’d hit the motherload. A nearby supermarket had a vast quantity of steak to get rid of due to over-ordering. I remember this because he’d rang me for the exact dimensions of the freezer as he wanted to figure out exactly how much he could fit into it. Getting that much meat cheaply was the happiest I’ve ever seen him, and I include his wedding day in that. It’d also stretched his finances slightly, which is quite possibly why he’d forgotten to put any money in the electricity meter.

This, this was why I wanted to kill him.

So alright, in classic crime thriller style, I’d never said it was a human body I had to get rid of – it was a human torso-sized amount of rotting beef. Our freezer had thoroughly defrosted and you’d be amazed how much blood is in an unfrozen piece of meat, enough that a large freezer full can drench a front room in blood.

Welcome to London – where the smell of rotting death can pervade throughout a four storey building and nobody thinks to call the police. What made this all the more surprising was that at the time there actually was a serial killer active in London. The case had made the papers internationally due to the macabre fact that one of the victim’s bodies had been identified by the serial number on a breast implant.

I was faced with a death-drenched apartment to clean but first, I had to get rid of about a torso’s worth of rotting raw meat. It was a Sunday, our bin day was Friday – by which point the meat could’ve walked itself out to the kerb. So it was, I had to quadruple bin bag up bags of foul meat and make several trips to find bins and dumpsters to dispose of it in. This proved surprisingly difficult. Restaurants are highly protective of their dumpster space as evidenced by the scary Turkish man who chased me away from his.  The bins around London are virtually non-existent due to the fact that the IRA used to plant bombs in them, which is anti-social on numerous levels.

Even with entire cans of deodorant sprayed into each bag, you couldn’t remove the stench of death so, as if I didn’t look suspicious enough, I had to keep crossing and re-crossing the street to avoid other pedestrians for fear of them catching the whiff and jumping to not entirely unreasonable conclusions.

I ended up walking around half of West London trying to find discrete, no-questions-asked locations to dump my bulging bags of death. One of these trips I had to make while fending off the attentions of a stray dog. He was like a drunk bloke who’d caught a whiff of the last remaining kebab on planet earth.

It took me several hours to eventually dispose of it all, days to wash most of the stains out and the smell, I’m pretty sure that 14 years later, the apartment still has an unpleasant whiff of death about it.

In summary, if you’re considering becoming a serial killer, I’d urge you to reconsider. It is an awful lot of effort. If your desire is to inflict pain and misery, do yourself a favour and become an estate agent instead.

About the Author

caimh_press_pic2

Caimh McDonnell is an award-winning stand-up comedian, author and writer of televisual treats.

His writing credits include The Sarah Millican Television Programme, A League of Their Own, Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You. He also works as a children’s TV writer and was BAFTA nominated for the animated series ‘Pet Squad’ which he created. He was also a winner in the BBC’s Northern Laffs sitcom writing competition.

During his time on the British stand-up circuit, Caimh has firmly established himself as the white-haired Irishman whose name nobody can pronounce. He has brought the funny worldwide, doing stand-up tours of the Far East, the Middle East and Near East (Norwich).

His debut novel, A Man with One of Those Faces, a darkly comic crime thriller, is out now.

If you would like to read more from Caimh McDonnell you can buy A Man With One Of Those Faces  via Amazon UK

or Amazon US

The Last Photograph

the-last-photograph

 

The Last Photograph

by Emma Chapman

 

He walks into the living room and June is dead. He centres her, checking the light. Focusing, he clicks the shutter. He’ll ask himself later, if he knew. It’s easy to say that he had acted without thinking, out of instinct. Rook Henderson is an award-winning photographer, still carrying the hidden scars of war. Now, suddenly, he is also a widower. Leaving his son Ralph to pick up the pieces, Rook flies to Vietnam for the first time in fifty years, escaping to the landscape of a place he once knew so well. But when Ralph follows him out there, seeking answers from the father he barely knows, Rook is forced to unwind his past: his childhood in Yorkshire, his life in London in the 1960s and his marriage to the unforgettable June – and to ask himself what price he has paid for a life behind the lens …Gripping, evocative and unforgettable, The Last Photograph is a story of a life shaped by trauma and love – and the secrets that make us who we are.

 

When Rook’s wife, June, dies suddenly, he flees the country to go back to Vietnam where he was a photographer during the war, leaving his son Ralph with nothing more than an email informing him that his mother has died.

Ralph chases after his dad wanting answers, but Rook is looking for his own answers. Revisiting his old haunts and old friends, he tries to come to terms with what happened to him there so many years ago.

The book moves backward and forward in time, starting when Rook met June in their hometown in the north of England. June, desperate to be an actress, pushes Rook into a move to London when she sends some of his photographs to the editor of the Times. Once they get to London they find that things are not as easy as first thought. So when Rook is given a job as photographer in the Vietnam war, they feel he must take it.

The book is as much about the relationship between Rook and June as it is about the war. June feeling incredibly alone without him and having given up on the acting work, makes some friends that Rook just can’t identify with and a chasm appears in their relationship.

When Rook comes home for good after a traumatic experience the couple move to the countryside to try to ground themselves. They have their son Ralph, but nothing seems to bring them closer.

This is an emotive book, dealing with the trauma affecting people during wartime, not only the people in Vietnam but those left behind as well. The two main characters, Rook and June are extremely well-rounded. Rook, the naive young man heading out to Vietnam, and June the headstrong young lady who knows exactly what she wants. We watch them develop and turn into different people as life takes its toll. Rook is deeply affected by events that happened during the war and also in his childhood. Whilst June comes to realise that life isn’t as easy as she thought, but her character comes through in her fight for her relationship.

Having had the pleasure of Emma Chapman visiting Urmston Bookshop, I have seen the amount of research that was done and how much she loves Vietnam and its people. This shines through on every page of her book.

This is a very well written book that deserves to be widely read.

 

 

 

 

 

The Constant Soldier

the-constant-soldier

 

The Constant Soldier

by William Ryan

 

1944. Paul Brandt, a soldier in the German army, returns wounded and ashamed from the bloody chaos of the Eastern front to find his village home much changed and existing in the dark shadow of an SS rest hut – a luxurious retreat for those who manage the concentration camps, run with the help of a small group of female prisoners who – against all odds – have so far survived the war.

When, by chance, Brandt glimpses one of these prisoners, he realises that he must find a way to access the hut. For inside is the woman to whom his fate has been tied since their arrest five years before, and now he must do all he can to protect her.

But as the Russian offensive moves ever closer, the days of this rest hut and its SS inhabitants are numbered. And while hope – for Brandt and the female prisoners – grows tantalisingly close, the danger too is now greater than ever.

And, in a forest to the east, a young female Soviet tank driver awaits her orders to advance . . .

 

The Second World War is reaching its climax, and the Russians are bearing down on Germany.

Paul Brandt, a German soldier, arrives back home from the Eastern Front, battered, broken and racked with guilt. No longer any use as a soldier, he is given a job guarding women prisoners in luxurious huts in his home village. The huts are a refuge for SS officers who manage the concentration camps. Brandt happily takes on the job because he has seen and recognised one of the prisoners. And so begins his journey to find atonement.

This is a beautifully crafted piece of work which is pitch perfect throughout. When you have to lift your head from the book to remove yourself from the scene, you know you are in the hands of a master.

Characters who live and breathe; Brandt himself, never a Nazi, just a young man with conviction, who got himself arrested and drafted into the army. His burgeoning horror and guilt at what he has seen and done and the relationships with people around him now, especially his father, is wonderfully realised.

Neumann, perhaps the most complex character in the book. He threw himself into being a Nazi, with all that that entails, but now is haunted by his deeds and has to live with himself. He is a character that you feel you should despise and yet a whole range of emotions swirl around and things are not so easily defined.

The women prisoners, even though we don’t get to know them as well as the men, stand as a beacon, shining a light into the darkest corner of Nazism and its bullying inhumanity.

The book is thriller-like as the plot moves to its climax. The feeling of the war playing out just around the corner and the fear the Germans feel as the Russians move in and the retribution that they know is coming is palpable.

There is not a wasted word, there is no over-the-top drama, just a beautifully paced story that will have you raging and sobbing at the same time.

An absolute must read for anybody who is interested in the human condition and what it is capable of. But also how the human spirit can soar and survive despite all the odds.

Highly recommended.

William Ryan will be appearing at Urmston Bookshop on Wednesday 5th October. For tickets Tel: 0161 747 7442 or email books@urmston-bookshop.co.uk