The Mystery of Mercy Close signifies a long awaited return – not just of author Marian Keyes, but of the Walsh family. For me, it was finally an excuse to see what all the fuss was about and check out a Keyes novel for myself.
This time, it is daughter Helen Walsh's turn in the spotlight, with a mystery involving missing popstar, Wayne Diffney. Helen, a private detective, has been roped in to find Wayne by former flame Jay Parker. Normally, she'd have told him where to go – but times are tough. Helen has had to move back in with her parents and give up her flat because she can no longer afford the bills. A lot of money has gone into the comeback gigs for former popgroup Laddz and Wayne needs to be found urgently if they have any hope of pulling it off. Jay knows that Helen is the only private detective that could think outside the box enough to actually find Wayne and the clock is ticking.
The story takes a while to really get going, as Helen is such an introverted character. She's no wallflower though – outspoken but not in a flamboyant or loud way. She simply says what she thinks, calmly and without fully understanding how people might take her. There is an almost autistic element to her reluctance to participate in social conventions. Her circle of people is small – stretching beyond her family only to boyfriend Artie and his children. She has no friends – though she reminisces about one she used to have without actually explaining why they no longer speak. She refuses to talk about what really happened to end her relationship with Jay, keeping both her parents and the reader totally in the dark.
Helen is a quirky character because of this, with both hilarious and heartbreaking results. She doesn't have what many readers would expect to be (apologies – hate to use the word!) 'normal' reactions to situations. While many would be utterly starstruck meeting celebrities, Helen doesn't seem all that bothered when meeting each member of Laddz or being escorted round their enormous homes. She does, though, begin to feel an affinity with the elusive Wayne. The more time she spends at his house, contemplating where he might have gone, the more comfortable she feels and the more she fears that finding him is not, perhaps, what he needs.
To a certain degree, it is debatable whether this is Helen or Wayne's story. Helen is clearly the protagonist of the piece but it is her search for Wayne that drives her forward when nothing else seems to motivate her. As each new piece of information is discovered about Wayne, a little more of Helen is revealed. It is Helen's relentless battle with depression, though, that is the most compelling part of her story. Her descent back into the depression that previously hospitalised her is alarming, thanks largely to her clinical, logical and unemotional perspective. As her world is crumbling around her again, the tell-tale signs begin to reappear. She isn't eating, the anti-depressants don't seem to be working anymore. She is seeing things. While all this is going on though, Helen somehow manages to also be brilliantly funny. She has a dry wit that will make every reader smile, especially when she starts making door-to-door enquiries and illustrating just how bad she can be at social etiquette.
The Mystery of Mercy Close may not grab the reader by the throat from page one but what it does do is get inside your head and transport you, not just to another world, but to another way of thinking, another mindset. Heartbreaking, courageous and brilliantly endearing, Helen Walsh is an unlikely heroine for the modern woman who doesn't have it all together. She will have reader's rooting for her to succeed and be happy as she struggles with the everyday life. What is evident in this book is that Marian Keyes does not shy away from serious issues. She raises important questions about depression, which she herself has suffered from, and does so in such an astute, honest and witty way that her stories remain fun and adventurous, despite their severity.