[Helen Walsh meets up with her sister Claire]
It was a while since I’d seen her, a couple of weeks. She looked great. Her hair was long and swishy, her fake tan was up to date and she was wearing slouchy capri pants, a tiny t-shirt with an anime character on it, a pair of super-high wedges and an armload of silver bracelets inscribed with Hindu prayers. That’s what happens when you have a teenage daughter. Kate may be a hormonal nightmare but it helped Claire to keep her look bang on trend…
‘Up to me eyes.’ She produced a tab of Nicorette and put it in her mouth. ‘Giving up smoking’, she said. 'Growing out my fringe. Bidding on a lampshade on eBay. Looking for a recipe for vegetarian lamb tagine. Taking the dog to be de-bollocked. Wondering if I could get Kate sent away to one of those reform places for problem teens. The usual.’ She went into her bag and produced a book which she gave to Mum.
‘No, it’s for my book club. Could you read it by Monday and tell me what it’s about?’
[her mother demurs]
‘Ah whatever. I don’t know why I bother. All we do is drink wine and complain about our husbands. We never talk about the books…’
observations: I’d never read Marian Keyes before. No real reason, I just assumed she was not for me, too mass-produced. But then I needed a third book for a 3 for 2 offer, and this one claimed to be a mystery story - though I was politely doubtful, I read a lot of them, and in general writers moving in from other genres are, politely, no good at all. So I was confounded and delighted by how wonderful this book was: I loved it. Helen Walsh is a PI in modern-day Dublin, she’s a lovely and real character; her family (who apparently feature in other books) jump off the page, there’s an excellent mystery to be solved, the book is full of great jokes and clever observations about modern life, and the subject of depression comes up in a natural but helpful way.
It was like reading the first Kinsey Milhone book and knowing that A for Alibi was just the start of it. Now I have all her other books to read.
Helen is excellent: sour, friendless, difficult, but somehow charming and delightful at the same time. She is constantly being rude about herself, and you don’t doubt her, yet somehow she shines. And her sister above: you can’t imagine a better character summation in a dozen lines, most of us would know her from that, along with the nugget of truth about teenage daughters and their effect on their mothers’ wardrobes. Helen’s parents are also excellent – Helen moves back home and is horrified to find that they don’t eat proper meals any more, and have breakfast at a coffee bar, ‘like Europeans’.
The book’s a treasure, both as a detective story and as a hilarious picture of modern life. It turns out that all the millions who buy Keyes’s books were right all along.