Moriarty and Keyes show there can be more than one queen
Five years ago I wrote that Sinead Moriarty, with her natural heart-warming ability to apply a light touch to dark subjects, was a worthy competitor for Marian Keyes' crown.
As a fan of both, I hoped Moriarty's eighth and Keyes' 15th offering would still have the magic dust each is capable of... and that one wouldn't eclipse the other. But my heart dipped at the opening pages.
This Child Of Mine, by Sinead Moriarty, begins in London with 18-year-old best friends Holly and Sophie relaxing in front of the television as they talk up each other's post-school prospects. Then their eyes are riveted by an interview with an Irish artist that shatters Sophie's sense of reality as if it had never existed.
Marian Keyes' The Mystery of Mercy Close starts with overworked mommies flippantly imagining a break in a psychiatric hospital akin to a heavenly white spa with tranquillisers on tap. One is Claire Walsh (heroine of Watermelon, Keyes' debut novel) - and the fly in the ointment is her sister Helen, the main woman of this book, who knows such places are a screaming far cry from any spa, and tells them so.
Thankfully, in Moriarty's case, that sense of unease - nudged to the fore by the laboured introduction of synaesthesia during that stilted TV interview with artist Laura Fletcher - quickly died and never rose again.
In fact, apart from a brief forced ah-you're-great mutual exchange between staid Anna (Sophie's doting headmistress mother) and ditzy Nancy (her belly-dancing neighbour), this book is as good as it gets in terms of chicklit polish and poise, humour and pain, pace and plot. And even though the premise for a bile-inducing secret which forces Sophie to flee her cosseted world is essentially far-fetched, it is written with such skill and context it becomes entirely believable.
The Keyes unease lasted slightly longer, as private investigator Helen's ragged, defiant voice begins to take shape and roar.
Thankfully Marian Keyes can still glory in that irreverent, rule-breaking touch which makes The Mystery of Mercy Close so utterly endearing. Who else could come up with a paint range called Holy Basil which includes the colours Gangrene, Poor Circulation and Frostbite? She spins rapidly unravelling gumshoe Helen off on a hush-hush job: to find missing Laddz singer Wayne Diffney before the once-famous boyband's ridiculous reunion concerts.
While humour is a major artery within both books, The Mystery of Mercy Close also has a seriously good sex drive with uber-sharp chemistry between Helen and her fraud squad lover and separated father-of-three, Artie Devlin.
Disappointingly, Keyes's lacks a final editing polish which would have eradicated many errors, while Moriarty's is very sleek indeed.
Given that both authors tie up all the loose ends with aplomb and enviable timing, however, it's clear that sometimes, just sometimes, there can be more than one queen.