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by Marian Keyes
Viking, April 2013
388 pages
ISBN: 0670025240

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Marian Keyes' new addition to the Walsh Sister Series, THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE, is a heady mix of mystery and potted psychology in about equal portions. For mystery fans, the psychology threatens to overwhelm what's mysterious about Wayne Diffney's disappearance on the eve of his boy band LADDZ' grand reunion concert tour. For Marian Keyes fans, this exploration of the life (and mind) of Helen Walsh will be fascinating.

Helen is in a relationship with Artie, a slam-dunk gorgeous man with an all-too-beautiful and present ex-wife and three growing children -- two adorable girls and an awful boy. Her ex-boyfriend Jay, oh so ex!, manipulates her into searching for Wayne and that's not very hard because he's offering a sizable fee. In the economic downturn, Helen's business has dried up and she's been evicted from her apartment and is now stuck back at her parents' house. Much of the sleuthing is done in Helen's head, as she struggles to unravel the tangled clues and not-clues from each other to come to an idea of where Wayne can be. She immerses herself in Wayne's persona by spending long hours in his home just thinking. And, all in all, she thinks well on the mystery front.

The complication is the novel's treatment of Helen's severe depression, which is sometimes suicidal. It adds a dark side to the novel that fleshes it out and covers the slightness of the mystery. This psychological side is in itself revealing, perhaps, of Keyes's mind. It presents a deeper mystery: how does Helen Walsh function as a human being at all? It also adds an unusual literary device: Helen's strategy for coping is to constantly reinvent herself which is a funny echo of Keyes inventing Helen in the first place. The result of Helen's reinvention amounts to imagining a person and then role-playing that person like crazy. She seems to be riddled with attitude, but unstably so. Thus, Helen occasionally does not make sense or seem real or seem like the Helen of former novels, all adding to the desperation of her state.

The novel works and as a segment of a series suggests that Keyes could be thinking of shifting focus from time to time to one or another of the five Walsh sisters which will give her plenty of scope for a long run.

Diana Borse is retired from teaching English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and savoring the chance to read as much as she always wanted to.

Reviewed by Diana Borse, August 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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