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
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor