When Graham Norton surprised the literary world with his adept fiction debut, Holding, adroitly adapted into a Kathy Burke-directed television series earlier this year, the amiable narrative spun around a body uncovered in a sleepy Irish hamlet and the secrets the community held close to their hearts. Six years and three novels later, there’s again a gruesome discovery in a domestic basement and a litany of rumours and family upheavals in a quiet Irish town to unpick. Formulaic? Let’s just say Norton is really good at undemanding, popular fiction with emotional weight and something to say about the vagaries of contemporary life.
Actually, he promises that Forever Home is both the “funniest and darkest” story he’s written thus far. Whether he gets that balance right is a moot point. At its heart is Carol, a quietly heroic late-fortysomething divorcee who finds love again with the much-older Declan. He’s seemingly revelling in a second chance at a relationship, too, given the wife of his two adult children mysteriously disappeared years ago. Naturally, all cannot be well. Declan is soon moved into a nursing home, his untrusting and clearly messed-up children booting Carol out of their house so they can secure a quick advance on their inheritance.
There’s some really nice stuff here about the ache of watching someone rapidly decline, childhood trauma and the suffocating meaning-of-life decisions about family, relationships and work. Bolting that on to an increasingly slapstick crime caper feels odd, though, particularly when the reason for the big secret is not something you’d readily make light of. It makes the motivations and actions of the characters in the third act feel inauthentic murder-mystery staples.
Still, Forever Home is effortlessly readable – mainly thanks to its reliance on explanatory speech rather than descriptive prose – possessed of a super twist and full of rounded characters to keep close to your heart.
Forever Home by Graham Norton is published by Coronet (£20). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply