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A Keeper

Review

A Keeper

Irish comedian and world-famous talk show host Graham Norton's first novel, HOLDING, was a nice departure for him. It was pretty much a classic mystery story in the vein of an Agatha Christie or P. D. James work.

His latest release, A KEEPER, is even better than HOLDING and has plenty of plot twists. We are taken back in time for half the book, while the other half is grounded in a present that feels like it is centuries apart from the time spent looking backwards. Page one, set in the "Before," introduces us to Edward Foley, a young Irishman who appears to have some serious issues. He is listening to the soft howl of the wind as he stares out at the breaking waves off the coast near his Irish home. Not only does he mourn for his late brother, James, who was lost to those waves, he laments everything he himself lost in the eyes of his overbearing mother, who never forgave him for letting James die.

"...one of the best books I have read where a lead character has the rug completely pulled out from under them when they realize that everything they thought they knew about themselves, their family and their loved ones is wrong."

Edward and his mother are key figures in the book’s past and present. However, its true stars are Elizabeth Keane, an American woman of Irish heritage, and her Irish-born mother, Patricia. We learn in the first "Now" chapter of Patricia's passing and Elizabeth's return to Ireland to settle Patricia's affairs and the house she willed to her. Elizabeth hasn't been there in decades, but time seems to have stood still --- far different from her fast-paced life as a divorcée in upscale, hip uptown Manhattan.

As Elizabeth is exploring the house and going through her mother's things, she comes across a cache of letters written by her late father, Edward, to her mother. Once she absorbs herself into these decades-old pieces of correspondence, the door to the lifelong secrets that she was never aware of begins to creak open. Norton then opts to reveal to us in chapters titled "Then" the past of the young woman known as Patricia. Patricia finally meets her pen pal, Edward, and comes to his home to meet his mother. Little does she realize that this seemingly innocent meeting will find her trapped in the Foley home against her will and subjected to physical and psychological cruelty on a daily basis. And then the real games begin.

Little by little, Norton provides us with more information on what happened to poor Patricia. It seems that Edward had been previously married to another woman, but he does not initially wish to talk about it. His mother obviously has lost her mind after James' death and rules over Edward with an iron fist. This means that anything she says goes, which includes Patricia remaining locked in an upstairs room for what feels like an eternity. She knows she cannot trust Edward but somehow must find a way to escape her unwanted prison. That is, until the day Mrs. Foley comes into her room and places a basket on her bed. In it is a crying, grasping baby who Mrs. Foley claims belongs to Patricia. Things now start to get really weird.

A KEEPER is an example of a mystery novel based on memory, which can be clear or false. It is one of the best books I have read where a lead character has the rug completely pulled out from under them when they realize that everything they thought they knew about themselves, their family and their loved ones is wrong. The ending is quite cathartic and satisfying, making it a treat of a novel that I highly recommend. Norton indicates in the Acknowledgements that he loved spending time in Muirinish and Buncarragh, and hopes his readers have as well. I can personally aver that the hours I spent buried in the wonderful and mystical land that is Ireland was well worth it.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on August 23, 2019

A Keeper
by Graham Norton

  • Publication Date: August 13, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books
  • ISBN-10: 1982117761
  • ISBN-13: 9781982117764