In the compelling new novel, Home Stretch, Graham Norton demonstrates his keen understanding of the power of stigma and secrecy - with quietly devastating results.
It is 1987 and a small Irish community is preparing for the wedding of two ofits young inhabitants. They're barely adults, not so long out of school and still part ofthe same set of friends they've grown up with. As the friends head home from the beach that last night before the wedding, there is a car accident.
It was Bill Lawlor who found them first.
No rain had fallen for four days but he knew it couldn’t last. He decided to take no chances and was working late at the garden centre. A pallet of peat moss sacks that had been delivered in the afternoon needed to be moved into the long store. By rights, young Dunphy should have been doing it, but he had looked so desperate when he came running into the shop asking if he could go early. His hair freshly flattened with water from the tap in the yard, his shirt tucked into his jeans.
‘Get away out of it. I’ll see you in the morning.’
The young lad beamed and, in his haste, to leave he tripped over his own feet.
‘Thanks! Thanks, Mr Lawlor.’
Bill wondered if there was a girl waiting. Was young Dunphy going to walk his lady friend along the river to the weir and then lure her under the railway bridge for a kiss or maybe more? He chuckled as he made his way down the yard. Hadn’t he done it himself?
The plastic sacks safely stored under cover, Bill threw the padlock around the gate and got into his car ready for the short drive home. Afterwards he tried to remember how he knew something was wrong. Had he heard the crash? He didn’t think so. All he could recall was that everything seemed unnaturally still as he approached Barry’s roundabout. There were no other cars and the early-evening light gave everything a flat, washed-out air. Without deciding to, he found that he had slowed down. On the far side of the roundabout by the turn-off to the coast road, he saw two men, more like boys really. One was kneeling on the overgrown verge, his black and purple rugby shirt like a bruise against the green of the grass.
The other was tall and thin, standing over him, gesturing with his long pale arms. Had they had a fight? Then he saw the thin threads of smoke rising up into the marmalade sky of dusk, and to the right of them the broken bank of shrubbery.