Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 27, 2012

The Mystery of Mercy Close (2012), by Marion Keyes, guest review by Marg Bates

It is my pleasure again to share with you a guest review from fellow Melbourne blogger, Marg Bates, from Adventures of an Intrepid Reader.   I’ve been a bit snowed under with books for review lately, so she very kindly agreed to review this one from Irish author Marian Keyes.  Here is Marg’s review:

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, to figure out what is happening with her boyfriend and just generally to 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 get to see Helen’s life both as it was currently happening as well as when she is 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, it  was 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 a 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.

© Marg Bates

Thanks, Marg, for sharing your thoughts about this book!

PS Click the links above on the other books in the series to see Marg’s reviews of those books too.

Author: Marion Keyes
Title: The Mystery of Mercy Close
Publisher: Michael Joseph, Penguin
ISBN 9780718155322
Source: Review copy courtesy of Penguin Australia

Cross-posted at Adventures of an Intrepid Reader.

Fishpond The Mystery of Mercy Close


  1. Reblogged this on Annette J Dunlea Irish Author's Literary Blog.


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