Sunday, March 24, 2013


Blame it on Irish mothers. Were not for their insistence on depriving their daughters of self-esteem, Helen Walsh, private investigator and main character in Marian Keyes' THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE, might mot be so “...abnormally. Psychotically contrary.” She is of the opinion  Mammy Walsh, dadblast her and her ilk, did not help  her girls' self-esteem because "..there was a law passed by which Irish motherscould actually be prosecuted if any of their female children exhibited any signs of normal self-worth."  In fairness to Helen, her perceptions seem to.stem from a congenital mood disorder. It does not help that global recession hits, she loses her best friend,  her business goes belly up,  her health fails,  she maxes out her credit cards, defaults on her mortgage and she loses her apartment. Friendless and suicidal, she boomerangs back to the parental home where she no longer fits, if she ever did. Enter Jay Parker, the boyfriend she jettisoned when he committed an unspeakable act best kept from the reader until the tail end of the book. She has nothing good to say about him, but she does not send him to devil when he offers her work
The job, for which he offers to pay double, is to find Wayne Duffy, of Laddz, one of the members of a once popular boyband. “….now so old and talentless and risible that they'd broken the crapness barrier and to so far to the other side that most people thought of them with great affection. They had become a national treasure.” Jay is one of the organizers of three Laddz reunion mega gigs. He has signed a contract promising to bring back the entire band, not just four Laddz.When Wayne vanishes while rehearsals are in progress, it becomes imperative that he be brought back to the stage where he and  his fellow band members will sing maudlin song dressed as superannuated swans suspended from wires. I kid you not.
As mysteries go, this one is not particularly engaging. Though she attended classes every Wednesday, for eight weeks in order to master her craft, Helen is no Miss Marple. Relentlessly sarcastic, humorlessly flippant, unjustifiably proud of being a curmudgeon with zero people skills, she plods through her days with all the grace of a rampaging baboon. She is somewhat xenophobic--a Middle eastern female acquaintance is notable only for being manipulative, having for her round bottom and hairy face--she hates animals, and apparently does not feel all that warm and fuzzy towards her parents, “I told  mum this morning that if she did not stop acting old I was going to lobby for a euthanasia law, where the bus would come round every Monday and take away all the old people who complained that they could not hear the telly or could not see the buttons on their mobile phone or that they had a pain in their hip and put a bullet in their heads.” She dislikes policemen, receptionists at medical offices and hair salons, but she reserves her most corrosive vitriol for people over fifty—not as strategy designed to endear her to Baby Boomers who do purchase mystery novels in surprisingly high numbers,
”Bloody active aging! God be with days when the second a person hit sixty they were housebound with rheumatoid arthritis...But nowadays? Oh no. Saga holidays, watercolor painting and Aerobics for the aged. Tai Chi in the community hall and Oprah in the afternoon and plankton tablets to keep their joints nimble. Imeden, strong denture fixatives and discreet incontinence pads.” It is possible that she loathes Vermonters, as well. She accuses one of them of wearing “menopausal clothes”, whatever the hell that is.
It is all in good fun, of course, but immortal satire it is not and halfway through the book one begins to wish that Helen will get her wish and that a fatal virus will put her out of her misery. Not that Keyes is a bad writer. She has a great ear for dialogue and a vast understanding of relationships between men and women. To dismiss this novel would mean missing brilliant apercus such as, "They say that what does not kill you makes you stronger, but that's not true. It makes you weaker. It makes you more fearful....because having discovered pain,(those who do so) they experienced their own vulnerability and on a primal level they can't help but protect themselves. The innocence is gone." One would miss  mordantly funny bits such as, "The fact that the human race has survived for a very long time (way too long in my opinion,they can bring on the Rapture anytime they like) without cave dweller hunter-gatherers carrying a little squeezy tube of pomegranate scented hand sanitizer tucked into  their loincloths."
If for no other reason--and there are many-- THE MYSTERY OF MERCY CLOSE is worth reading for the lovingly painted portrait of Docker, the good man, who is one of the people not skewered by Helen. Singer, actor and "good man" he sounds an awful lot like Sting, " Then there are  the parts of the novel where Keyes really shines. That is when she addresses the central topics of this story—the failing global economy and depression. Sure, she adds a couple of hunky boyfriends, the obligatory sex scene, the non-mystery of Wayne's disappearance and a few red herrings that fail to grab the reader's attention. The real story is how and why Helen's mind works the way it does. Keyes herself suffers from depression and every scene in the book that deals with the subject rings true. Maybe books on instant poverty and depression are not marketable. Maybe it is necessary to consign these unpleasant realities to background material. Even so, they remain at the heart of the story.

--Those unfamiliar with Irish media and idioms will need to do a fair amount of Googling to find out just what is the meaning of Grazia, brickie, bricking, throwing a strop and the like.

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