Michael Joseph £18.99

The Mystery of Mercy Close, By Marian Keyes

Who are you calling a chick-lit heroine?

Marian Keyes's debut, Watermelon, burst upon the scene in 1995, topping the paperback charts and jump-starting the pulse of a nascent genre. Seventeen years and a dozen Keyes titles later, the pundits have announced the demise of "chick lit", yet her books continue to be international bestsellers, as do those of Lisa Jewell, Jenny Colgan and other favourites who have been bracketed within the trend. Good writers move with the times. Their characters have other interests than finding Mr Right, and the heroine of this novel swigs Diet Coke instead of Chardonnay.

In Watermelon we first encountered the dysfunctional Walsh family from Dublin: soap-watching Mammy, her bemused husband and their five rampant daughters. Four of the girls have starred in their own novels, and devotees will be delighted finally to read about the youngest, Helen, in The Mystery of Mercy Close.

The petite man-eating twenty-something we glimpsed in Watermelon and Rachel's Holiday is now an edgy misfit in her thirties. And if the book title suggests suspense, it's because Helen has set up as a private investigator, having been fired from every job she's ever had. Times are hard, however, and Helen is forced to accept an assignment from her charming but unreliable ex, Jay Parker, now the manager of a washed-up boy band. One of the members, Wayne, has disappeared days before some game-changing reunion gigs and Helen's job is to find him in time. At least the case will pay a few bills and divert her from fretting about her gorgeous boyfriend Artie, whose ex-wife and kids claim his attention.

Helen is far from the de rigeur sympathetic heroine of so-called chick lit: she dislikes children and animals and always speaks her thoughts, which are usually scathing. Keyes's use of the confessional voice and a beyond-black humour beguile the reader into empathy, which is all that's required. I didn't find the missing-person investigation itself compelling, but Helen's picaresque path to redemption is. She's gut-bustingly funny. While she trawls answerphone messages, searches Wayne's house for clues and interviews the other band members, she sends up tawdry celebrity culture, rants about contemporary lifestyles, and continually updates her Shovel List. This last is an excellent survival tool for modern life: "A list of all the people and things I hate so much that I want to hit them in a face with a shovel."

Beneath the warmth and the zippy dialogue sounds a note of vulnerability, and it's this that gives Keyes's writing its special appeal. Her women are whistling in the dark. They're never earnest. They don't want to complain or to bore the reader with their problems, but one senses all too clearly that they're in pain. It's no surprise to learn that their creator knows whereof she speaks. Helen is visited by bouts of clinical depression and while she makes light of it all, dark undercurrents are aswirl.

Alas, there are no more Walsh sisters after this, but for aficionados there's an ebook coming called Mammy Walsh's A-Z of the Walsh Family. This reader can't wait!

Rachel Hore's novel A Gathering Storm is published by Simon & Schuster

Arts and Entertainment
Reach for the sky: there are around 250 new buildings of 20-plus storeys planned for London alone, some 80 per cent of them residential
architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
television
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
filmReview: The ingenious film will intrigue, puzzle and trouble audiences by turns
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
News
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
people
News
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Oscars
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
music
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
film
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
architecture
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower