|The Last Will of Moira Leahy reads like a debut novel by a talented writer who had a lot of good ideas and couldn’t bear to part with a single one of them. Therese Walsh throws in just about everything except the kitchen sink, and while some parts of the story gel nicely, others fail to mesh well together. The result is a book that just misses recommended status, although I’d definitely keep an eye out for Walsh’s future efforts.
Maeve Leahy has closed herself off from most of life – the music she used to play, her parents, her hometown in coastal Maine, and the romantic interest of her friend Noel – ever since the loss of her twin sister, Moira, nine years ago. Living in a small New York town and teaching language at a local college, Maeve faces a quiet, lonely holiday season until a strange artifact throws her life into an uproar.
At an auction house, she impulsively bids on and wins an antique Javanese keris, or dagger, that reminds her of the one she and Moira used as children to play pirate queen. Once she has the keris in her possession, strange things start happening. Someone leaves her a book about Javanese weaponry and cryptic notes offering more information about the keris’ secrets. Memories of Moira, and the music they once shared, haunts her waking and sleeping hours. Against her own best judgment, Maeve travels to Rome to find the man who created the keris. She is met by Noel, who is no longer willing to maintain a platonic friendship, and by a volatile Italian who wants the keris for himself.
As Maeve’s narrative alternates with flashback chapters detailing her childhood and the events that led up to the loss of her sister, the reader comes to understand Maeve’s almost limitless grief. The closeness of identical twins who shared a secret language gradually gave way to distance, distrust and outright deception due to a bizarre love triangle. The keris is the key that will let Maeve embrace all that she has forsaken, if she can remember, and forgive.
There are a lot of plot elements in this novel: twins, music, magic, Eastern mysticism, ghosts, mother issues, rape, miscarriage, art history, domestic violence. Walsh isn’t quite a skilled enough writer to weave all of the pieces together seamlessly. It’s also a little too difficult to identify with her prickly heroine, or to understand why the handsome, dashing Noel has been willing to wait around for the emotionally stunted Maeve. The chapters with the greatest poignancy contain the flashback scenes, which portray Maeve and Moira at various times from the ages of seven to sixteen. The deterioration of their bond from mind-reading closeness to outright betrayal is heartbreaking, and the ultimate resolution is Kleenex-inducing. The novel could have stood on its own as a family relationship study; the insertion of the snarling, swarthy villain was hardly necessary and adds little to the story.
Despite the numerous themes, the novel’s middle drags a bit, but the last 50 pages pack the strongest emotional punch. If you can wade through the excess, The Last Will of Moira Leahy is an interesting book with a unique voice. Remember Therese Walsh’s name – I think you will hear from her again.