It seems such a travesty to label Marian Keyes’ brilliantly funny books as chick-lit...
It’s true that they feature feisty young women, domestic dilemmas, family friction and, last but not least, good old-fashioned romance.
But that is where the similarity ends because this is devilishly clever, genuinely hilarious and heart-wrenchingly poignant chick-lit... with a soupçon of saucy sex thrown into the magical mix.
Keyes, an Irish woman with a twinkle in her eye and a gift for sparkling, original and wickedly witty dialogue, returns to writing after a bout of real-life depression which makes her achievement here even more remarkable.
The Mystery of Mercy Close, her fourth book featuring the dysfunctional Walsh family from Dublin, has been a long time coming but it has certainly been worth the wait because we finally get to learn more about Helen, the wasp-tongued and yet achingly vulnerable youngest of the five Walsh sisters.
Thirty-three-year-old Helen has been having a tough time making her way in the world but has finally found her true calling as private investigator. It suits her awkward personality and she enjoys the adrenaline rush of the job, even if the work is fast drying up – dangerously so.
The truth is she can no longer pay the bills for her flat and has had to move back in with her reluctant parents. ‘We got rid of you. We painted your room. We’ve never been happier,’ remarks a disbelieving Mammy Walsh.
Helen’s handsome Viking boyfriend Artie Devlin and his three adorable children are a great distraction but his beautiful ex-wife Vonnie lives a little too close for comfort and Artie has a very demanding job.
So when her dodgy, hipster-suited ex Jay Parker turns up with a fat roll of money and a job offer, she reluctantly signs on to help him locate Wayne Diffney, the recently disappeared fourth member of Ireland’s biggest mid-Nineties boy band, Laddz.
Of the five Laddz, the Talented One has long gone on to better things, but the Cute One, the Gay One and the Other One are all busily shunning carbs and rehearsing their imminent three-gig mega reunion tour, and it’s Helen’s job to track down Wayne, the Wacky One.
There’s a lot of money riding on the Laddz comeback extravaganza and their new manager Jay is adamant that Wacky Wayne is not going to spoil the show.
Helen visits Wayne’s home at Mercy Close, a tucked-away cul-de-sac off the sea road in Sandymount, but he doesn’t appear to have left many clues.
Helen, a classic left-field thinker, throws herself into the search and the glamorous but dark world of celebrity while all the time sinking into a mental black hole and discovering that she’s seeing more of chaotic Jay than she is of dependable Artie...
Warm and wise, sexy and satirical, The Mystery of Mercy Close contains everything a woman could want, proof – if it was needed – that there is no end in sight yet for Marian Keyes’ reign as the queen of grown-up chick-lit.
(Penguin, paperback, £7.99)