Review published on May 7, 2017.
This is the fifteenth novel in the series about Merrily Watkins, a vicar and Deliverance practitioner who lives on the borders of Hereford and Wales. It begins with a spooky graveyard scene and ends with ‘power, pain and confusion’. There are many strands to this book, which weave together to make a satisfying whole.
The series hangs very heavily on the conflicting beliefs of the characters, most of whom have been here from the beginning, and this book covers the events of a few weeks in winter.
Merrily herself is a great character as she is a modern vicar who is alert to the needs of the parish but also the mother of Jane and soulmate of Lol (Laurence), a folk-rock musician.
Jane has been working as an archaeologist and her boyfriend Eirion and new friend Sam create conflict for her. One of Lol’s songs has been taken up as backing for a TV advert, linking him back to his music.
We also have the Scouse policeman Frannie Bliss and his lover Annie Howe, who are investigating a murder case or two, linked to Merrily. Annie’s father, a very modern rogue, a smiling villain, is a high ranking retired policeman, who is out to cause mayhem and trouble among the characters.
Add to these the issues of rural drugs and crime, illegal immigrants, the occult – and Morris dancing! – and you have an excellent mix of murder mystery and ghost story.
The setting, along the borderlands where there are black and white houses, lonely churches, hills and streams, is perfect for the subject.
Phil Rickman can take some bizarre subjects and ideas and make them believable and sinister without ever becoming melodramatic, and this is why his books are so involving. A recent television adaptation of the first book in the series was far too ‘spooky’ and over-the-top in my opinion.
By reading the books, you gain a far better understanding of a world just beyond the grasp of most of us.
Readers who enjoy a murder mystery with a difference and a sense of humour will love Merrily’s latest adventure and there is plenty to talk about for reading groups.
Dorothy Anderson 5/5
All of a Winter’s Night by Phil Rickman
Corvus 9781782396970 hbk Jan 2017
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough