This is the 13th Merrily Watkins story. I’ve dipped into these novels on and off and they work fine as stand-alone books, but there is a running story with the main cast of characters. Some readers may have been introduced to these mysteries following the recent televised adaption of Midwinter of the Spirit. This story should not disappoint those that enjoyed this as this book has a similar eerie style.
It starts with autumn storms that bring a very old tree down. Amid the roots, age old skeletal remains are found, with the skull displaced and a stone in its mouth – depicting a medieval deviant burial to stop the soul of the individual returning. Shortly after the discovery, the skull disappears only to be posted on an internet site, resulting in police involvement also. Set in Cwmarrow on the Wales/England border, this is a suitably unnerving place, which is dark, gloomy and associated with evil spirits.
Merrily is a rural minister who also forms part of the diocese deliverance team, dealing with spiritual mysteries to determine if an exorcism is required. She has been positively credited for her approach in this role, but there is a new bishop, seeking to modernise practices, which would involve phasing out such archaic practices. This brings into play a focus on the politics that are at work within the church.
With unfortunate timing Merrily is approached by a Muslim couple that live in a 12th century cottage in Cwmarrow that they think has dark energy that needs to be removed. Not only does this pose problems due to cross religious boundaries, but neither can Merrily risk making the bishop aware of the request. The situation is complicated and not everybody is being transparent. Jane, Merrily’s daughter is growing up and offering support to her mother. They use their skill sets to investigate the history of the house and area, where it becomes apparent that there were distasteful goings-on, suggestive of cult behaviour and possible sexual grooming.
This is an atmospheric whodunit, with a good cast of characters that have appeared throughout the series. There were many times when as much was being said between the lines as through the dialogue. I found it wasn’t always clear what was being referred to, but I guess this added to the intrigue and obliqueness that defines this book. It is intriguing and driven by the strong dialogue of the characters. There is a great deal of focus on their issues and interactions. Merrily’s daughter probably is the strongest character in the book and I found I was particularly drawn by and engrossed in her element of the story. At times something was lacking with the depiction of Merrily; she failed to always sustain my interest, as she sometimes diminished in her calmness. The effect of this was that at some points in the book, the draw to keep turning the pages and start the next chapter reduced, but this didn’t spoil the overall read. For me it was more a good read as a opposed to a great read.
Friends of the Dusk by Phil Rickman
9781782396949|Atlantic pbk May 206