Tuesday February 19, 2013
A rollicking good time
Review by TASHNY SUKUMARAN
Ignore those who sneer at chick lit: this is a well-written solid piece of fiction that discusses real-life issues with a light touch.
The Mystery Of Mercy Close
Author: Marian Keyes
Publisher: Penguin, 507 pages
DYSFUNCTIONAL families: everybody’s got some version of one – and maybe that’s what makes Irish author Marian Keyes’ Walsh family novels just so darn addictive.
Appearing in a series of six books so far, the five Walsh sisters and their slightly dotty parents make for hearty chick lit that sticks to your ribs.
The latest installment, The Mystery Of Mercy Close, features black sheep sister Helen Walsh (although you could argue that all the sisters are dark-hued woolly ruminant mammals in their own way) and her trials and tribulations as a broke, depressed private investigator.
With tongue-in-cheek references to real world events, The Mystery Of Mercy Close sees Helen taking on a missing persons case at the behest of her supposedly dodgy (but extremely handsome) ex-boyfriend, Jay Parker – who has some emotional baggage on hand as well as the euros Helen needs to pay her mortgage. Hard-hit by the recession, she’s been kicked out of her flat and reduced to living with her parents.
The missing man she’s been contracted to find? Only one-fifth of has-been supergroup boyband Laddz, Wayne Diffney. He’s vanished from his house in Mercy Close less than a week before a gargantuan reunion gig that will see his bandmates turn their post-fame pennies into profit.
Of course, it’s only a four-man reunion – talented bandmate Shane Dockery (or simply, Docker) has long moved on to bigger, better things. The pop culture wink and nudge here is unmistakable, with narrator Helen announcing early in the book that every band has The Talented One, The Wacky One (who usually has strange hair), The Cute One, The Gay One, and The Other One. Apply to any boyband of your choice (I did it with NSYNC) and you’ll find this theory holds water.
Helen’s full of these sorts of observations and quirks; another notable one being her Shovel List (“people and things I hate so much that I want to hit them in the face with a shovel”).
Throw in an extremely mad family, a love triangle or two, a hunky boyfriend with an exasperatingly, suspiciously sweet ex-wife, and some underworld connections and you’ve got a mystery on your hands, one that blends escapism with a hearty sense of “that could be me”.
The clever thing about this book is that despite being labelled “chick lit”, Keyes isn’t afraid to take her story to some dark, messy places. Protagonist Helen battles clinical depression, much like Keyes in real life.
They say to write what you know, and while Keyes does that to sometimes annoying effect with Helen, it’s clear she understands her character’s agony viscerally. The Mystery Of Mercy Close was written after a two-year hiatus in which Keyes was laid low with clinical depression, and it shows in her writing.
Although some of the characters border on aggravating (including Helen herself who is surprisingly show-offy and self-aggrandizing at times), the story moves along smoothly, and that’s despite the large supporting cast and subplots.
Engaging enough that you care and light enough you can read it in transit, The Mystery Of Mercy Close is a rollicking good time – you’ll laugh, cry, and realise for the first time just how much you missed the Walsh family.
Keyes definitely is a giant of the genre, with a plot so well-knit and watertight you’ll be wondering if you could become a private investigator yourself.
Of course, this book does stick to the chick lit staple of having everything resolved perfectly in the last couple of pages – but really, what’s wrong with that? Ignore the literati who might sneer; The Mystery Of Mercy Close is a well-written solid piece of fiction that discusses real-life issues with a light touch.