Book review: Marian Keyes, “Mystery at Mercy Close”

I love Marian Keyes.

I realise my reading taste might be as bipolar (ho, ho, ho) as my music taste, seeing as my three favourite authors are Miss Keyes, Julio Cortazar and Michael Cunningham, but it works for me. And I do not think that Marian Keyes’ books are any more “Chick lit” than Michael Cunningham’s. “Chick lit” applies quite rightly to Sophie Kinsella, but Marian doesn’t write books about shopping and shoes. The topics are mentioned, but most of all, her books are about people in turmoil.

Those acquainted with the Walsh family, like me, have squealed in delight when they found out the new book will be about Helen Walsh. Helen is slightly sociopathic, has a bigmouth that makes Morrissey’s look like an overpolite nun’s and decided to become a private investigator because everything else she tried was boring and they wouldn’t let her be a flight attendant even though she was totally as rude as she could. In previous books, Helen was a funny, rude side character that seemed impossible to describe (you will recall that when Keyes wrote a book about Anna, the drugs magically disappeared from it). This time, the authoress pulled an almost impossible feat and kept Helen’s quirkiness intact, while still making her oddly likeable and convincing.

Helen, aged 33, gets depressed, and Keyes’ account of depression through her heroin gives away a lot of her own story. Helen doesn’t even believe in depression when it strikes her, and she can’t really point to children abuse as cause, since there wasn’t any. Her brain chemistry just fights against her, which is something I can totally relate to myself. Helen spends time in a mental hospital, tries various sorts of medications, gets close to killing herself. All this, as is her magic talent, Marian Keyes manages to despite in a way which, while less hysterically funny than her usual, nevertheless remains light, warm and very honest.

The story is a crime story, and while some of Amazon readers would disagree, I found it very entertaining and had no clue whatsoever what would happen. Some clues are hinted at as obvious, then dismissed within one line as wrong, which I suppose should have been expected. In a way, Marian’s writing is a version of Game of Thrones’ writing — alliances are formed, closed, then re-formed, and things happen that you don’t expect to.

The story is also a story of the economical crisis, describing changes in Ireland. Pretty much anyone can relate to them; the heroine gets her electricity cut, her house repossessed, bunch of blokes take her things away from her and she has to move back with her parents. And on her quest to find a missing pop singer she encounters more and more people with the same problems. “We were on antidepressants, but we had to stop taking them, because we couldn’t afford them anymore” says one of the side characters. The entire economy seems to nod; it was on antidepressants, but eventually couldn’t afford them. The side character self-medicates with big quantities of weed. As for economy, well, banks seem to have found a way to cope which is semi-legal in certain areas…

I can’t say I read those 500+ pages, I SWALLOWED them. I spent a day in Helen’s head, and it was a great day, although there was quite a bit of pain and suffering in it as well. I will be re-reading this one, and I hope Marian’s depression lifts soon.

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