Dear Ms. Walsh,
You don’t know me, but I sometimes lurk at your blog, Writer Unboxed, which is one of the best blogs for writers I know of. I’ve been following it since the days when you were writing this book, under the working title of Unbounded, so when Jane told me that we had been sent an ARC of The Last Will of Moira Leahy, I was interested in reading it.
The Last Will of Moira Leahy is narrated in both first person and third person. The first person sections take place in the present day and are narrated by twenty-five year old Maeve Leahy, the book’s main character. The third person sections take place between 1995 and 2000, and are mostly written in the POV of Maeve’s identical twin, Moira.
It becomes clear early in the present day story that Maeve lost her twin nine years ago at the age of sixteen, so although we are not told the details of how and why Moira’s life ended, we do know that the “Out of Time” third person sections, which begin when the twins are happy ten year olds, are slowly and inexorably leading us to a very painful event.
Meanwhile, in the present day, Maeve, now a foreign languages professor thanks to an accelerated academic career, is haunted by Moira’s absence. She bleaches her red hair because she can’t bear to look at her reflection, since it reminds her of her twin. She never visits her parents in Maine, doesn’t date anyone and doesn’t play music. She focuses almost entirely on her work and has only three friends — her roommate and childhood friend, Kit; Garrick, an elderly antique store owner; and Garrick’s grandson Noel, whom she has known since they were both freshmen at Betheny U.
Although Noel is now away in Europe, his years-long friendship with Maeve has taught her how to bid at auctions, and since the time of year in which she lost Moira has arrived and Maeve is badly in need of a distraction, she decides to attend one.
Once there, Maeve finds her attention captured by a Javanese knife called a keris. It reminds her of a similar blade which her grandfather once owned, and which she lost. She ends up bidding a lot more than she planned to in order to acquire it, and afterward, she learns from Garrick that kerises are said to have magical properties.
Mysterious things begin to happen soon afterward. Maeve has been hearing piano music for a while, but now these experiences intensify. She is haunted by strange dreams, and discovers a book about Javanese weapons nailed to her door, and then a note bearing only the word eling, Javanese for “remember.”
In the interspersed third person sections, we learn that Maeve and Moira were very close, even having their own language in early childhood, and a sixth sense connection with one another that persisted well into their teen years. Their mother did all that she could to distinguish between them, to encourage them to grow in different directions. But when Maeve and Moira developed feelings for the same boy, and he was only interested in one of them, things began to go awry…
Back in the present day, Maeve receives an invitation from a maker of Javanese knives to come find him in Italy and learn more about her keris. As a young girl, Maeve always wanted to travel, but she buried that dream at the age of sixteen, and has never been out of the country. But the people in her life insist that she go, and she finds herself on a plane to Rome.
In Italy, Noel is waiting, and Maeve has been missing him badly. She is afraid to admit that her feelings for Noel may be more than platonic, afraid to live her life fully again. But when more mysterious notes appear, and a man who wants the keris begins to seem dangerous, Maeve is brought closer — to her painful memories, to romantic feelings for Noel, to herself, and to Moira’s last will.
The Last Will of Moira Leahy is a cross genre novel, with elements of mystery, women’s fiction, paranormal/magical realism, coming of age novel and romance blended together almost seamlessly, an impressive feat. I loved the way all those genres entwined.
The book got off to a slow start for me because the present day sections within the first hundred or so pages struck me as melancholy. While this was totally fitting to Maeve’s circumstances, I found myself looking forward to the “Out of Time” sections in Moira’s third person POV, which showed the twins’ growing up years and provided a respite from Maeve’s suffering.
Maeve seemed older than her twenty-five years, and while I understood that this was because she was so steeped in grief, there were times when I wished she’d show more signs of youthfulness or immaturity because it was difficult to remember that she wasn’t in her thirties. It wasn’t until Maeve arrived in Rome, about one-third of the way though the book, and her relationship with Noel was revealed, that I became deeply engrossed in the story and from then on, it was impossible to put the book down.
I loved Noel — the section in which his feelings for Maeve came to the fore was touching, romantic and in many ways my favorite part of the book. I did wonder though, if Noel wasn’t a little too perfect, a little too much exactly what Maeve needed. It seemed like he was patient when she needed patience and impatient when she needed a push.
But this is not something I can complain about too much because Noel was such a great guy and so different from the typical romance hero — perceptive, artistic, tender, but at the same time romantic, sexy, and so clearly in love with Maeve that I was rooting for him to get the girl and for Maeve to let herself find happiness again.
As for Maeve, she was a somber, sensitive woman whose grief for her twin was still palpable even after nine years. Even though I wanted her to move on, I empathized with her inability to do so, and when the tragedy she had suffered was fully revealed, I cried so hard that I had to wipe my glasses over and over.
The teenaged Moira was more flawed, but it didn’t make her any less sympathetic to me, and I also felt a lot of compassion for the girls’ parents.
All the settings were beautifully evoked, Rome especially, and the last two thirds of the book were so gripping that I forgot the rest of my life and became wholly absorbed in the story. This book was ultimately about healing from grief, about Maeve’s relationship with Moira, and about remembering past and yet letting it go. While I wish that the first third had been as engaging to me as the rest, and that the romance had been longer and more drawn out (romantic relationships being my favorite kind to read about), I think this was ultimately an emotional and rich journey, and I recommend it highly. B+ for The Last Will of Moira Leahy.
This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.
This book was provided to the reviewer by either the author or publisher. The reviewer did not pay for this book but received it free. The Amazon Affiliate link earns us a 6-7% affiliate fee if you purchase a book through the link (or anything for that matter) and the Sony link is in conjunction with the sponsorship deal we made for the year of 2009. We do not earn an affiliate fee from Sony through the book link.