Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes

Helen Walsh has taken a long time to find a niche in life that she fits. She knows that she has can be somewhat abrasive personality wise and that she beats to a slightly different drum! Once she became a private detective, she was in a job that suited her perfectly. She was determined enough to do whatever it takes to solve her cases, relying on a mix of modern techniques like accessing bank accounts and phone records but also to use old fashioned gum shoe style techniques like stake outs, no matter how long it took. Life was good.

Or at least it was until the GFC hit the Irish economy hard (much harder than we experienced here in Australia). Suddenly the big firms weren’t hiring, rich spouses weren’t as keen to spend money spying on their most-likely-straying spouses and Helen’s work pretty much dried up. This coincided with a major depressive episode that saw Helen contemplating suicide more than once.

Now her flat and most of her possession have been repossessed by the bank, she owes money to everyone and she finds herself moving back home with her delightfully quirky parents. The only thing that keeps her happy at the moment is her relationship with her boyfriend Artie and even that is not without complications in the form of his children who either love or hate her and a very present, still very friendly ex wife.

When her ex, Jay Parker, turns up and offers her a job Helen knows that this is likely not a good idea to spend time with him but a job is a job and the money is good so she has to take it. Former Irish boy band, The Laddz, are due to get back together for a reunion show very soon but one of the members, Wayne, has disappeared. Without Wayne (the wacky one in the band) there is no way the show can go on but there is very little in the way of clues to give some idea of where he might have gone. Helen must navigate between the various egos within the band who all want the reunion to take place for their own individual reasons, deal with his highly protective family and follow the trail to see where exactly he has disappeared to. If successful, this reunion show could provide them all with lucrative rewards. If it fails, then there are going to be some investors who will lose a lot and they are not happy at that prospect!

As Jay and Helen work together to try and find Wayne, sidetracked along the way by nosy neighbours and Jay’s interest in rekindling their relationship, Helen also has to try and fight the gathering storm of depression that she knows is coming her way again, figure out what is happening with her boyfriend and just generally get her life together again and more.

There was a lot to like about this book. Helen has an unusual point of view on life and that makes for interesting reading. We got to see Helen’s life both as it was currently happening as well has her looking retrospectively at the events that led to her last depressive episode including the breakdown of her friendship with one of her few close friends, Bronagh. At first, I wasn’t sure where the story of this friendship was going. We knew that Helen and Bronagh were no longer friends but it took a long time for the truth to come out about why. When the truth was revealed I was a little bit surprised at the reason, mainly because I guess I didn’t see why the friendship had to end between the two women. As I saw it as more the friendships between the other players that should have imploded but sometimes friendships do seem to end on the flimsiest of pretexts. There were some other things in the book that didn’t work for me too including some repetition and a bit of saggy middle where the search for Wayne got a bit bogged down in the chase. Oh, and the ending was all neatly tied up like a present with a lovely bow on top. I mean, I was happy for Helen, but how likely was that to really happen?

It’s hard to believe that we have been waiting nearly 6 years for the final installment in the Walsh sisters series from Marian Keyes. Given the way that Helen had been portrayed in the previous books, I always thought it was going to be a hard story for Keyes to write even without Keyes’ own not-so-secret battle with depression over the last couple of years where she struggled to write at all. The reason I mention that depression is that Keyes has always been very open about her own demons and has often used some of those battles as subject matter in her books (for example, in the past, she has written about alcoholism). Keyes has always had the ability to talk about difficult topics but doing so with characters that you wished you knew personally so you could sit down and have a good laugh with. She puts them in situations that are funny and touching and poignant, but never in a way that trivializes the particular topic of the book. Depression very much plays a huge part in the lives of Helen and other characters including the effect of that depression on the lives of the family members around them.

Speaking of family members, it was good to see the roles that the other Walsh sisters played in the book. Rachel (from Rachel’s Holiday) and Anna (from Anybody Out There?) both live elsewhere and were barely mentioned but both Clare (Watermelon) and Maggie (Angels) got at least some page time. I have read each of these previous books, but I must confess that I found myself trying really hard to remember what Maggie’s story was….and failing badly.

Now that each of the sisters has had their turn in the limelight, it is easier to look back over all the books a bit more objectively. There are elements from different books that stick in the mind (for example Luke and his friends the Real Men from Rachel’s Holiday) but if I had to pick only one book from the series to name as my favourite it would without doubt be Anybody Out There?.

Keyes has said that there may be more Walsh family books in future, maybe with the next generation. Whatever her next book is I will be keen to pick it up and once again immerse myself in the worlds that she creates that are full of humour and warmth but not afraid to talk about the big issues in life.


I employ this thing called The Shovel List.'

'A shovel . . . ?'

'No. A Shovel List. It's more of a conceptual thing. It's a list of all the people and things I hate so much that I want to hit them in the face with a shovel.'

Meet Helen - youngest of the Walsh sisters and a law unto herself. She's easily bored, has an inability to filter her thoughts and was fired from every job she ever had before she found her true calling as a private investigator. But times are tough for PIs and Helen's had no choice but to take on the search for AWOL boyband has-been Wayne Diffney - The Wacky One.

It's not all bad this game of Where's Wayne. It may have brought her charming crook of an ex Jay Parker back into her life, but it's giving her an excuse to avoid the usual Walsh family dramas and the intense looks from her gorgeous boyfriend Artie that make her heart beat wildly with lust and panic in equal measure. But most of all it's an excellent distraction from the huge swarm of black vultures gathering over her head. If she hides out in her target's empty house on Mercy Close for long enough maybe they'll go away . . .

But as Helen begins to unravel the mysteries secreted on Mercy Close she discovers a kindred spirit in a man unwilling to be found. Could someone be telling her to look a little closer to home . . . ?

Thanks to Lisa from ANZ Litlovers for this book. This review has been cross-posted at ANZ Litlovers


  1. I am glad you reviewed this book. I have read all of her books also and must agree completely with you re: the favourite being Is Anyone Out There. I thought it was brilliant though also thought Watermelon was the funniest. That may be because it was my first experience reading her. I will definitely be checking this one out.

    1. I liked Watermelon but didn't love it! The fact that I couldn't remember Angels worried me. Might have to start at the beginning again one day.

  2. I enjoyed this as well, great review Marg

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

  3. Oh, lovely. I have always found Helen hilarious in the other books and can't wait to get my hands on this one so that I can read her story. I must admit, I can't remember what Maggie's story was, Angels? Know I read that one but it is very fuzzy.

    1. It's interesting how some books stick in your mind more than others.

  4. I didn't actually realise the books were part of a series, I read part of Angels years ago thinking they were completely stand alones. Nice to hear they've been finished.

    1. The books all do standalone but there are recurring characters, like Mammy Walsh.

  5. I had no idea that the author had such serious issues in her life, nor that she used them as stepping stones in her fiction. It sounds like although this one had a few heavy points, that it was an overall success. I don't tend to love books that tie up too seamlessly, but I do like the way this series sounds. Fantastic review today, Marg!!

    1. The other week I posted a review of her cookbook, Saved by Cake. She used baking to help herself get through the depression each day.

  6. I always liked Helen, Rachel not so much. I really must stop baking things from Marian's cookbook and get into reading!