The Mystery of Mercy Close: A Novel

The Mystery of Mercy Close: A Novel

by Marian Keyes

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101606049
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/09/2013
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 163,842
File size: 866 KB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Marian Keyes, a preeminent writer of contemporary women’s fiction, is the internationally bestselling author of more than ten novels, a cookbook, and two autobiographical works. She lives in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, with her husband.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Read an Excerpt

I wouldn’t mind—I mean this is the sheer irony of the thing—but I’m the only person I know who doesn’t think it would be delicious to go in to “someplace” for “a rest.” You’d want to hear my sister Claire going on about it, as if waking up one morning and finding herself in a mental hospital would be the most delightful experience imaginable.

“I’ve a great idea,” she declared to her friend Judy. “Let’s have our nervous breakdowns at the same time.”

“Brilliant!” Judy said.

“We’ll get a double room. It’ll be gorgeous.”

“Paint me a picture.”

“Weeeeell. Kind people . . . soft, welcoming hands . . . whispering voices . . .

white bed linen, white sofas, white orchids, everything white . . .”

“Like in heaven,” Judy said.

“Just like in heaven!”

Not just like in heaven! I opened my mouth to protest, but there was no stopping them.

“. . . The sound of tinkling water . . .”

“. . . The smell of jasmine . . .”

“. . . A clock ticking in the near distance . . .”

“. . . The plangent chime of a bell . . .”

“. . . And us lying in bed off our heads on Xanax . . .”

“dreamily gazing at dust motes . . .”

“. . . Or reading Grazia . . .”

“. . . Or buying Magnum Golds from the man who goes from ward to ward selling ice cream . . .”

But there would be no man selling Magnum Golds. Or any of the other nice things, either.

“A wise voice will say”—Judy paused for effect—“‘Lay down your burdens, Judy.’ ”

“And some lovely, floaty nurse will cancel all our appointments,” Claire said. “She’ll tell everyone to leave us alone, she’ll tell all the ungrateful bastards that we’re having a nervous breakdown and it was their fault and they’ll have to be a lot nicer to us if we ever come out again.”

Both Claire and Judy had savagely busy lives—kids, dogs, husbands, jobs and an onerous, time-consuming dedication to looking ten years younger than their actual age. They were perpetually whizzing around in minivans, dropping sons off at rugby practice, picking daughters up from the dentist, racing across town to get to a meeting. Multitasking was an art form for them—they used the dead seconds stuck at traffic lights to rub their calves with fake-tan wipes, they answered emails from their seat at the cinema, and they baked red velvet cupcakes at midnight while simultaneously being mocked by their teenage daughters as, “A pitiful fat old cow.” Not a moment was wasted.

“They’ll give us Xanax.” Claire was back in her reverie.

“Oh lovvvvely.”

“As much as we want. The second the bliss starts to wear off, we’ll ring a bell and a nurse will come and give us a top-up.”

“We’ll never have to get dressed. Every morning they’ll bring us new cotton pajamas, brand new, out of the packet. And we’ll sleep sixteen hours a day.”

“Oh, sleep . . .”

“It’ll be like being wrapped up in a big marshmallow cocoon, we’ll feel all floaty and happy and dreamy . . .”

It was time to point out the one big nasty flaw in their delicious vision. “But you’d be in a psychiatric hospital.”

Both Claire and Judy looked wildly startled.

Eventually Claire said, “I’m not talking about a psychiatric hospital. Just a place you’d go for . . . a rest.”

“The place people go for a ‘rest’ is a psychiatric hospital.”

They fell silent. Judy chewed her bottom lip. They were obviously thinking about this.

“What did you think it was?” I asked.

“Well . . . sort of like a spa,” Claire said. “With, you know . . . prescription drugs.”

“They have mad people in there,” I said. “Proper mad people. Ill people.”

More silence followed, then Claire looked up at me, her face bright red. “God, Helen!” she exclaimed. “You’re such a cow. Can’t you ever let anyone have anything nice?”


was thinking about food. Stuck in traffic, it’s what I do. What any normal person does, of course, but now that I thought about it, I hadn’t had anything to eat since seven o’clock this morning, about ten hours ago. A Laddz song came on the radio—the second time that day, how about that for bad luck?—and as the maudlin, syrupy harmonies filled the car, I had a brief but powerful urge to drive into a pole.

There was a petrol station coming up on the left, the red sign of refreshment hanging invitingly in the sky. I could extricate myself from this gridlock and go in and buy a doughnut. But the doughnuts they sold in those places were as tasteless as the sponges you find at the bottom of the ocean—I’d be better off just washing myself with one. Besides, a swarm of huge black vultures was circling over the petrol pumps and they were kind of putting me off. No, I decided, I’d hang on and—

Wait a minute! Vultures?

In a city?

At a petrol station?

I took a second look and they weren’t vultures. Just seagulls. Ordinary Irish seagulls.

Then I thought, Ah no, not again.

Fifteen minutes later I pulled up outside my parents’ house, took a moment to gather myself, then started rummaging for a key to let myself in. They’d tried to make me give it back when I’d moved out three years ago but—thinking strategically—I’d hung on to it. Mum had made noises about changing the locks, but seeing as she and Dad took eight years to decide to buy a yellow bucket, what were the chances that they’d manage something as complicated as getting a new lock?

I found them in the kitchen, sitting at the table drinking tea and eating cake. Old people. What a great life they had. Even those who don’t do tai chi (which I’ll get to).

They looked up and stared at me with barely concealed resentment.

“I’ve news,” I said.

Mum found her voice. “What are you doing here?”

“I live here.”

“You don’t. We got rid of you. We painted your room. We’ve never been happier.”

“I said I’ve news. That’s my news. I live here.”

The fear was starting to creep into her face now. “You have your own place.” She was blustering but she was losing conviction. After all, she must have been expecting this.

“I don’t,” I said. “Not as of this morning. I’ve nowhere to live.”

“The mortgage people?” She was ashen (beneath her regulation-issue Irish-mammy orange foundation).

“What’s going on?” Dad was deaf. Also frequently confused. It was hard to know which disability was in the driving seat at any particular time.

“She didn’t pay her MORTGAGE,” Mum yelled, into his good ear. “Her flat’s been RECLAIMED.”

“I couldn’t afford to pay the mortgage. You’re making it sound like it’s my fault. Anyway, it’s more complicated than that.”

“You have a boyfriend,” Mum said hopefully. “Can’t you live with him?”

“You’ve changed your tune, you rampant Catholic.”

“We have to keep up with the times.”

I shook my head. “I can’t move in with Artie. His kids won’t let me.” Not exactly. Only Bruno. He absolutely hated me but Iona was pleasant enough and Bella positively adored me. “You’re my parents. Unconditional love, might I remind you. My stuff is in the car.”

“What! All of it?”

“No.” I’d spent the day with two cash-in-hand blokes. The last few sticks of furniture I owned were now stashed in a massive self- storage place out past the airport, waiting for the good times to come again. “Just my clothes and work stuff.” Quite a lot of work stuff, actually, seeing as I’d had to let my offi ce go over a year ago. And quite a lot of clothes too, even though I’d thrown out tons and tons while I’d been packing.

“But when will it end?” Mum said querulously. “When do we get our golden years?” “Never.” Dad spoke with sudden confidence. “She’s part of a syndrome. Generation Boomerang. Adult children coming back to live in the family home. I read about it in Grazia.”

There was no disagreeing with Grazia. “You can stay for a few days,” Mum conceded. “But be warned. We might want to sell this house and go on a Caribbean cruise.”

Property prices being as low as they were, the sale of this house probably wouldn’t fetch enough money to send them on a cruise of the Aran Islands. But, as I made my way out to the car to start lugging in my boxes of stuff, I decided not to rub it in. After all, they were giving me a roof over my head.

“What time is dinner?” I wasn’t hungry but I wanted to know the drill.


There was no dinner. “We don’t really bother anymore,” Mum confessed. “Not now as it’s just the two of us.”

This was distressing news. I was feeling bad enough, without my parents suddenly behaving like they were in death’s waiting room. “But what do you eat?”

They looked at each other in surprise, then at the cake on the table. “Well, cake, I suppose.”

Back in the day this arrangement couldn’t have suited me better—all through my childhood my four sisters and I considered it a high-risk activity to eat anything that Mum had cooked—but I wasn’t myself.

“So what time is cake?”

“Whatever time you like,” Mum said.

That wouldn’t do. “I need a time.”

“Seven, then.”

“Okay. Listen . . . I saw a swarm of vultures over the petrol station.”

Mum tightened her lips.

“There are no vultures in Ireland,” Dad said. “Saint Patrick drove them out.”

“He’s right,” Mum said forcefully. “You didn’t see any vultures.”

“But—” I stopped. What was the point? I opened my mouth to suck in some air.

“What are you doing?” Mum sounded alarmed.

“I’m . . .” What was I doing? “I’m trying to breathe. My chest is stuck. There isn’t enough room to let the air in.”

“Of course there’s room. Breathing is the most natural thing in the world.”

“I think my ribs have shrunk. You know the way your bones shrink when you get old.”

“You’re only thirty-three. Wait till you get to my age and then you’ll know all about shrunken bones,” Mum said.

Even though I didn’t know what age Mum was—she lied about it constantly and elaborately, sometimes making reference to the vital part she played in the 1916 Rising (“I helped type up The Declaration of Independence for young Pádraig to read on the steps of the GPO,”), other times waxing lyrical on the teenage years she spent jiving to “The Hucklebuck” the time Elvis came to Ireland (Elvis never came to Ireland and never sang “The Hucklebuck” but if you try telling her that, she just gets worse, insisting that Elvis made a secret visit on his way to Germany and that he sang “The Hucklebuck” specifically because she asked him to)—she seemed bigger and more robust than ever.

“Catch your breath there, come on, come on, anyone can do it,” she urged. “A small child can do it. So what are you doing this evening? After your . . . cake? Will we watch telly? We’ve got twenty-nine episodes of Come Dine with Me recorded.”

“Ah . . .” I didn’t want to watch Come Dine with Me. Usually I watched at least two shows a day, but suddenly I was sick of it.

I had an open invitation to Artie’s. His kids would be there tonight and I wasn’t sure I had the strength for talking to them; also, their presence interfered with my full and free sexual access to him. But he’d been working in Belfast all week and I’d . . . yes, spit it out, might as well admit it . . . I’d missed him.

“I’ll probably go to Artie’s,” I said.

Mum lit up. “Can I come?”

“Of course you can’t! I’ve warned you!”

Mum had a thing for Artie’s house—you’ve probably seen the type, if you read interior-decorating magazines. From the outside it looks like a salt-of-the-earth working-class cottage, crouched right on the pavement, doffing its cap and knowing its place. The slate roof is crooked and the front door is so low that the only person who could sail through with full confidence that they won’t crack their skull would be a certified midget.

But when you actually get into the house, you find that someone has knocked off the entire back wall and replaced it with a glassy futuristic wonderland of floating staircases and suspended bird’s-nest bedrooms and faraway skylights.

Mum had been there only once—an accident, I had warned her not to get out of the car but she had blatantly disobeyed me—and it had made such a big impression on her that she had caused me considerable embarrassment. I would not permit it to happen again.

“All right, I won’t come,” she said. “But I’ve a favor to ask.”


“Would you come to the Laddz reunion concert with me?”

“Are you out of your mind?”

“Out of my mind? You’re a fine one to talk, you and your vultures.”

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for Marian Keyes

The Mystery of Mercy Close
“Keyes’s portrayal of depression is nuanced and authentic. Helen’s vibrant voice is spot-on….”
Publishers Weekly

The Brightest Star in the Sky
“Keyes manages to stuff a smorgasbord of genres into one tasty tale….The real joy is in the journey itself; watching Keyes' quirky characters as they change partners, reveal battle scars and command your attention on every page.” —People

“THE BRIGHTEST STAR IN THE SKY is a well-crafted novel with engaging characters and a gripping plot.”—Christian Science Monitor

“…a pleasure to read….a sharp and honest exploration of a favorite Keyes theme: resilience.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Reading Group Guide


Helen Walsh doesn’t believe in fear—it’s just something men invented to get all the money—and yet she’s sinking. Her private investigator business has dried up, her flat has been repossessed, and now some old demons are resurfacing. Chief among them is her charming but dodgy ex-boyfriend Jay Parker, who offers Helen a lucrative missing-persons case. Wayne Diffney from boyband Laddz vanished from his house in Mercy Close—and the Laddz have a sellout comeback gig in five days.

Helen has a new boyfriend, but Jay’s reappearance proves unsettling. Playing by her own rules, Helen is drawn into a dark and glamorous world, where her own worst enemy is her own head and where increasingly the only person she feels connected to is Wayne, a man she has never even met.


Marian Keyes, a preeminent writer of contemporary women’s fiction, is the internationally bestselling author of more than ten novels, a cookbook, and two autobiographical works. She lives in Dún Laoghaire, Ireland, with her husband.


1. You manage to create such a whip-smart, charming, and humorous character in Helen Walsh – how did you balance the levity of her voice with the serious subject matter of depression?

Thank you for saying such nice things about her. She was a challenging character to write about because she already existed before The Mystery of Mercy Close – she’s appeared in the four books I’ve already written about the Walsh sisters and even though she hasn’t had a starrring role until now, she was a very unforgettable person and she came with certain characteristics that I couldn’t ignore – she’s outspoken, almost fearless. Over the years, countless people have told me that Helen is their favourite Walsh sister and said they were longing for Helen to have a book of her own. But I thought that would never happen because she’s so different to me. I’m only interested in writing about nuanced women with some sort of vulnerability and Helen seemed impermeable. But then, as luck would have it (!) I experienced a major depressive episode and even though it was horrible and went on for a long time, it became clear to me that this was something that could happen to Helen. So, you could say I grafted my own pain onto Helen’s pre-exisiting character and it resulted in a new person.

2. The Mystery of Mercy Close is told in 71 brief chapters, detailing events that took place over the course of six days. Why did you choose to structure the novel this way?

That’s a tough question to answer because I write intuitively rather than logically – I tell a story first and then overlay a structure at the end. (And it’s something I agonise about. I can’t tell you the number of conversations I’ve had with my husband when I’ve put my face in my hands and wailed, “But how am I going to structure it?” And he always says, “Just write it and you can worry about the arrangement at the end.” And he’s always been right.)

So let me have a think. Okay: I knew the story had to take place over a short period of time because although The Mystery of Mercy Close is much more than a thriller/mystery, it is a book with a ‘ticking-clock’ narrative. It’s hard for the reader to have a sense of urgency if the deadline (in this case, Wayne’s concert) is a month, rather than less than a week, away – every moment has to matter. At the same time as Helen is trying to find Wayne, she’s undergoing her own personal unravelling and that too needed to be conveyed as time-critical.

However! I know – because I read a huge amount myself – that 6 chapters (one per day) are too few. The sense of, “I’ll just read one more chapter. And okay, just one more,” works best when chapters are short, when you can see that they only last 3 or 4 pages. For some books, long, langorous chapters work well, they entwine the reader into a dreamy atmosphere, but for the Mystery of Mercy Close, which is a speedy, urgent read, short chapters were perfect.

3. Now that the youngest Walsh sister has been written as the lead in her own novel, can you pick favorites? Which of the sisters do you think you’d get along with best?

Such a difficult question to answer because I love all five of them. In a way, Helen will always be my favourite because she’s fearless and will never let herself be pushed around by anyone – I wish I was more like her. But I feel a lot of admiration for Rachel for surviving addiction and making a good life for herself. I have great affection for Margaret – she’s so sensible and she managed to retain a cast-iron sense of self, which was a tough job in a family of such big characters. But Claire was the first sister I wrote about and I adore her sense of fun, which hasn’t changed in all these years. However, as I’ve got older, the characteristics I admire in people has changed and I value gentleness and kindness in my friends and I think Anna is the most tender of all the sisters.

4. What’s on your shovel list?

Oh, I am shamefully intolerant, especially anything to do with noise. I swear I can hear the grass grow. Youths seem to follow me around and sit beside me on the bus, with their horrible head-phones blasting out the most irritating tinny sounds or worse still, something with a heavy bassline that makes everything vibrate. Also, I am wildly annoyed by the smell of cheap scented candles, vanilla is the very worse. And people who say “Pacifically” when they mean “Specifically.” I should really stop now - I’m starting to sound like a horrible person, when I’m not really - I’ll just say one more thing: celery. I cannot abide it! Or people who say, “Sweet potato wedges are just as delicious as ordinary potato wedges, but with a third fewer calories.” Because sweet potato wedges are not as delicious as ordinary potato wedges – I don’t mind making a deliberate decision to try and consume less calories by eating the sweet potato wedges, but I do resent being taken for a fool. Really, I’d better leave it at that…

  1. As the story gains momentum, the presence of Helen’s deepening depression seems almost more of a threat than the criminals and secrets she is working amongst. How do you think Helen’s detective work changes as her mental perspective shifts?
  2. Helen works the case for Jay Parker for quite a while before Artie discovers that he is her ex-boyfriend. Do you think Helen should have disclosed the nature of that relationship to Artie? Would you have done the same?
  3. What did you make of Artie’s relationship with his ex-wife, Vonnie?
  4. Who do you think was the most misunderstood member of Ladzz? Why?
  5. On page 283, Helen describes the five different kinds of reactions she got from her friends and family when she was hospitalized for her first depressive episode. Have you ever reacted to a difficult situation involving a loved one in a similar way? Why?
  6. During one of the rehearsals for the Laddz reunion show, Helen thinks she sees Zeezah touch Roger St. Leger in an inappropriate way. What was your impression of Zeezah’s reaction when Helen confronts her?
  7. What are some of the techniques the author uses in developing the narratives of each member of Ladzz?
  8. Do you think Jay Parker was innocent in his business dealings with Bronagh and her husband?
  9. At various points in the novel, Helen Walsh seemed to have meaningful connections with Jay, Artie, and even Wayne – who did you envision Helen ending up with, if anyone? Were you surprised at the final outcome?
  10. Marian Keyes takes a brief look at the characters’ lives six months after the mystery has been solved. Do you think Zeezah made the right decision? Why?
  11. Many times, Helen returns to lay on the floor of Wayne’s house in order to collect her thoughts. How does this help her? Why?
  12. Helen Walsh keeps a hilarious “shovel list.” What might some of the things at the top of your own shovel list be?

Customer Reviews

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The Mystery of Mercy Close: A Walsh Sister Novel 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm a huge Marian Keyes fan. I've read all of her books, but my favorites are the books in the series featuring the Walsh sisters. Read them in order if you can. All of Marian Keyes novels are hilarious, poignant, sad, tear-inducing, and brilliant. All at the same time.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hate to say anything negative about Marian Keyes because she is one of my all time favorite authors, but I was slightly disappointed with this book. I had such high expectations. I did enjoy reading it, but I thought it was bogged down with the depression issues. She usually has an element of depression in each of her books, but with this one, it was the whole focus. However, I will continue to read anything she writes and can't wait for the next novel.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If you love Marian Keyes previous work, read this book. It does not disappoint. I mistakenly put off reading it because of some unfavorable reviews. An excellent read. I look forward to Ms. Keyes next novel!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a huge Marian Keyes fan but, for the first time, I couldn't even get through this book. It started off with the usually hilarious commentary and lovably quirky character. But by the end of the first hundred pages, it got bogged down and went nowhere. Perhaps it was the idea of a mystery that made this tedious? Marian, I love your work! Really. Looking forward to a story that sounds more like you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Marian seems to have manifested a bit of herself in her character Helen. She saved the most relateable, witty, and charmingly abrasive personality for last. I laughed out loud in coach class on an airplane from Dublin. I certainly didn't cry. I absolutely couldn't put it down. Despite a predictable solution to a sub-crisis, this book is one of my favorites. If I am ever in Ireland again, another visit to Brown Thomas, a second package of Jammie Dodgers and tea with the author would be a wish come true.
saketome More than 1 year ago
Some remarkable insight into depression with her usual mix of humor,
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Helen Walsh is a pleasantly different detective.
cs More than 1 year ago
Page-turning laughs await in the new mystery from Irish author Marian Keyes’ “The Mystery of Mercy Close.”  This is the fifth Walsh Sister novel. Helen, the protagonist, is the youngest of the Walsh sisters. She is a private detective, or was, or maybe will be if she can just get a case. She first loses her electricity, then her apartment. She has to move back in with her mother. She’s dealing with a new boyfriend, his kids, and boyfriend’s ex-wife. She isn’t feeling exactly at the top of the world, but her sense of humor is kicking. In the midst of this, along comes an ex-boyfriend who wants to hire her to find the last missing person from an old Irish 1990s teen band. Mercy Close is (or was before he disappeared) the lead singer for the band Laddz. The remaining members want to have a reunion performance, but first they have to find Mercy. This is where Helen comes in. This is a funny book, but it is heavy at times. Realistically portrayed along with depression, guilt, psychiatric stays, and attempted suicide, the main character’s romp with depression reveals a dark side uncommon in many protagonists. Of course, her environment is a lighter matter.  The people she meets in the music biz are all recognizable nuts and her investigation of the missing person’s case reveals the delightful vices of booze, drugs, and…well, you know the third, it being rock ‘n roll. The main plot of this book is Helen and her journey.  Secondly, comes the mystery of the missing person.  If you like character pieces with a little mystery – and ones that will leave you laughing as well as feeling something in your gut – Marian Keyes’ “The Mystery of Mercy Close” might need to be the next novel you read. - Clay Stafford, author, filmmaker, and founder of Killer Nashville