Posts Tagged ‘Phil Rickman’

Merrily's Border: The Places in Herefordshire & the Marches Behind the Merrily Watkins Novels

This is a must have book for anyone who is a fan of Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series.  Full of atmospheric photographs of the various locations of the books in the series.  This edition includes the locations of the Secrets of Pain and The Magus of Hay.  There was an earlier edition which didn’t include these two books.

The text provides insights into how the books came to be written and explores some of the background to the series.  A selected bibliography for those who want to read more about the locations and the history of the Border region is included. Reading this book and studying the photographs really brought an extra dimension to the series for me. I can now visualise the places mentioned in the books.

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All of a Winter's Night (Merrily Watkins Mysteries Book 14)

A new Merrily Watkins is always something to look forward to and I definitely wasn’t disappointed with this one.  Merrily herself is threatened by the new broom of the new bishop of Hereford who believes that deliverance doesn’t have any place in the modern Church of England.  DI Frannie Bliss is worried that organised crime has come to the country when a Polish immigrant is shot dead at his garage.

The death of Aidan Lloyd – a famer’s son in Ledwardine – is followed by what Merrily regards as an unsatisfactory funeral and she and daughter Jane awake in the night following to the funeral to see spectral figures and lights in the churchyard around the grave.  Should they investigate or call the police?  It is soon clear that this death and its aftermath have triggered a clash between the old ways and the new world of crime bringing Merrily and Bliss together again to investigate some very strange and frightening goings on.

I found myself totally absorbed in this many layered novel in which crime mixes with paganism, religion, the supernatural, church politics and the perennial clash between country ways and progress.  Well written and impeccably researched this is a marvellous novel in which believable and likeable characters mix with some real villains who will stop at nothing to achieve their own ends.  The author really brings this border region to life and I’m sure if I visited Hereford Cathedral now I would be looking out for Merrily and her friends and colleagues.

This is an excellent atmospheric novel with more than a hint of the supernatural and it lingers long after you have read the last page.  As with previous new books in this series I have been prompted to go back to the beginning – The Wine of Angels – and read them all again.

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Friends of the Dusk (MERRILY WATKINS SERIES Book 14)

I’ve been looking forward to reading this thirteenth book in this compelling series and it was definitely worth waiting for.  I read it over two days and was completely absorbed in it.  Some people may consider it starts off quite slowly but I found the tension really building almost from the first page.  Bernie Dunmore has been replaced as Bishop of Hereford by Craig Innes who seems to want to sweep Deliverance under the carpet almost and refer all cases brought to Merrily’s attention to the nearest psychiatrist.

Meanwhile Merrily’s daughter, Jane has returned home and may have problems of her own.  Lol Robinson is back in Ledwardine with some good news and Frannie Bliss has a murder to investigate which will take him into some strange byways where he will need help and information from Merrily.  Then Merrily is asked to look into what may be a haunting but will bring her into contact with other faiths in what is potentially an explosive situation. That is without mentioning the cult which has grown up around two books published years ago for young adults.

Well written, meticulously researched as ever and with lots of undercurrents and tensions which keep raising the hairs on the back of your neck while you’re reading.  I love the series characters – Merrily, Jane and Lol, Sophie – Merrily’s and the Bishop’s secretary – Annie Howe, Frannie Bliss and an assortment of others including Anthea (Athena) White.

If you like your crime stories with more depth than the average and with an added supernatural element then this series might be for you.  I can thoroughly recommend them and I have read and re-read them many times.  I also recommend the various standalone novels including the last one to be published ‘Night after Night’.

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The House of Susan Lulham (Kindle Single)

Merrily Watkins is asked to look into the strange phenomena which are bothering a young woman who has recently moved into an architect designed house in Hereford which was formerly owned by Susan Lulham who committed suicide in spectacular fashion.  Zoe feels that Susan is till there in the house.  So far so normal for Merrily’s other job as Diocesan Deliverance Consultant.  But Merrily has doubts about the whole thing – something doesn’t ring true.  As she and Sophie – the Bishop’s lay secretary – work to uncover the history of the house, she becomes more and more worried by what they find.

This is a really spooky short read and I was very glad I read it in daylight as I found I kept looking over my shoulder at the slightest noise.  It is a novella and can be read at a sitting and it is an expanded version of the short story of the same name which appeared in the anthology ‘Oxcrimes’.  I read the short story first but you don’t actually need to as the novella is complete in itself.

If you haven’t read any of this author’s Merrily Watkins series then this novella might be a good place to start even though it is the latest on the series.  It does give you a good idea as to whether you might enjoy the full length novels.  For Merrily Fans this will stave off the withdrawal symptoms for a while.


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Night After Night

Assemble a group of sceptics and believers in a haunted house for a week and see what happens and you have Big Other.  What could possibly go wrong especially as there are no such things as ghosts anyway – or are there?  Leo Defford arranges to lease Knap Hall which is up for sale and he recruits Grayle Underhill to research suitable inmates for the house.   Grayle is a journalist who used to write primarily about alternative healing, ghosts and anything vaguely spooky.

But Grayle starts to have doubts about the wisdom of the whole project though she knows she can’t afford to turn down the huge fee she will receive and anyway people she knows – Marcus Bacton and Cindy Mars-Lewis – have recommended her for the job and Cindy himself is going to be involved too.

There is of course much more than this bare outline of the plot suggests and no one involved will be quite the same at the end of it.  I found the book relatively slow to start off with but the tension gradually mounts as we get closer to the first live transmission and then everything moves very fast.  I found this book probably one of the most disturbing of Phil Rickman’s books and many incidents have stayed in my mind since I finished reading it.

Well written and researched with interesting – not to say eccentric – characters this is an absorbing read and as ever the psychological aspects of the interaction between the characters is spot on. A great read.

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A new Merrily Watkins mystery is always something I look forward to reading and this one does not disappoint.  Merrily is on her own as daughter Jane has gone on an archaeological dig.  She had already booked a week’s holiday which now seems a little irrelevant without Jane but she is soon occupied with matters closely connected to her job as Deliverance Consultant to the Diocese of Hereford.


A retired teacher keeps seeing her friend who has recently died; detective Frannie Bliss – newly returned to work after partly recovering from horrendous injuries sustained in the course of his duties, needs her advice and Robin and Betty need her help in clearing the atmosphere in the bookshop they are opening in Hay on Wye.


Readers who follow this series will remember Robin and Betty from ‘Crown of Lights’.  But things are due to become very much more complicated than at first appears and there will be many supernatural events and plenty of evil acts from live human beings before the tangled web is smoothed out.


As ever this is a well written and disturbing novel mixing the supernatural with earthly crimes.  The characters are well drawn and believable and flawed human beings struggle to come to terms with their own and other people’s problems.


In my opinion this is probably one of the best books in this excellent series and I raced through it – wanting to know what happened but at the same time not wanting the book to end.  It could be read as a standalone novel but is best read – in my opinion – as part of the series.


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Product Details

Merrily Watkins finds out that Syd Spicer – who she has worked with
before – has problems of his own now he is back with his old regiment, the SAS,
as their chaplain. For reasons of secrecy he has to deal with whatever he has
discovered without reference to Merrily, even though the matter would normally
be referred to her as Diocesan Deliverance Consultant. But supernatural matters
are something which make Syd uncomfortable.

Merrily’s daughter Jane is getting herself into dangerous situations and fears
the destruction of the village of Ledwardine as she knows it; Barry – landlord
of the Swan – fears for his livelihood as a local businessman wants to buy the
pub; Lol Robinson – musician – fears he will have to choose between his career
and his love for Merrily. There are dark forces at work as the countryside
around Hereford and Ledwardine is hit by the recession and the only people
making money are people offering adventure weekends for men – SAS style.

The police have their own problems with the murder of a local farmer and unrest
among the farming community who believe the force is not interested in rural
crime. Frannie Bliss – coping with the breakup of his marriage and his very new
relationship with Annie Howe – is finding life full of quicksand.

This is a densely plotted novel which keeps the reader enthralled throughout.
Strands are woven and interwoven with modern concerns resulting in the revival
of pagan influences. Myths and legends are never far below the surface of the
peaceful country life. Tensions exist between the incomers who want to see
everything preserved – provided they can still make their livings in the way
they choose. Everyone is interconnected and knows everyone else. People choose
not to tell unless they are forced into a situation where they have to.

The book can be read on many levels: the tensions between traditional and
modern in the countryside; what is real against what is fake; personal and
public lives; war and peace; and the age old battle between good and evil. It
will repay re-reading to understand all the nuances. The first time through the
reader concentrates on the story. Will Jane be all right or has she gone too
far this time? Can Merrily help Syd with his problems when Syd does not seem
inclined to confide in her by any sort of overt method? Can the police solve
the horrific murders they are confronted with? Are these masculine adventure
weekends really a good idea and do they result in better men?

This is an excellent addition to the Merrily Watkins series, though perhaps not
the best one to start with if you have not read any of the earlier ones. It is
best to read the series in order starting with The
Wine of Angels (Merrily Watkins 1)

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