Therese Walsh’s debut novel The Last Will of Moira Leahy is a poignant tale of family bonds, self-discovery, forgiveness, and international intrigue. The title character grows up in the shadow of her identical twin Maeve in the coastal Maine town of Castine, but is gone when we meet Maeve nine years later. She lives an inhibited workaholic life as a young professor of languages in a small university town, estranged from her family and her considerable talent as a saxophone player. Maeve’s present and the twins’ shared past are interspersed, fueling a deep curiosity for the reader to find out what exactly is the defining event by which Maeve labels life as Before and After.
A whim brings Maeve in possession of a keris, a Javanese dagger. The dagger soon draws both mysterious attention in the form of books and notes nailed to her office door, and a rise in nightmares, visions, and music haunting Maeve’s consciousness. During winter break, Maeve decides to follow the leads to Rome in order to discover the draw of the keris, and is joined by her best friend/love interest Noel in the Eternal City.
As the timelines draw closer together, one realizes that Maeve has reached a breaking point in her life: things simply cannot go on as they have. However, since she is so entrenched in her present circumstances, the transformation starts and stutters as one expects. This journey endeared me to Maeve who is struggling with grief, although it might be frustrating to witness her jagged progress as she sheds her inhibitions towards the past, Noel, and living fully.Similarly, Moira’s adolescent vulnerabilities are beautifully and realistically portrayed, so one cringes when anticipating what might have traumatized this family–but it’s not exactly what you think. Although there are some extraneous plot lines and some underdeveloped points, Walsh keeps the reader engaged in a well structured story which crescendos to a powerful and satisfying close. Moira Leahy –and Maeve– stay with you after the last page, which is perhaps as the title implies.