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by Phil Rickman
Corvus, September 2011
448 pages
18.99 GBP
ISBN: 1848872739

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In her role as exorcist for the diocese of Hereford, Merrily Watkins is used to keeping secrets, but when her work brings her back into contact with Syd Spicer, an ex member of the SAS, or the Regiment, as they are more usually known in and around Hereford, she begins to wonder what on earth Syd, one of the hardest men Merrily has ever met, is dealing with that has clearly managed to scare him so much. But Syd isn't telling, even though he's clearly out of his depth.

And Syd isn't the only one having problems. Detective Inspector Frannie Bliss is having a hard time juggling his personal life and his professional commitments whilst trying to investigate two separate murders. A wealthy country farmer has been brutally hacked to death and a young Eastern European girl appears to have been the victim of a violent mugging. In Ledwardine, Merrily's daughter Jane has her own concerns and believes that local landowner Ward Savitch is encouraging somewhat more destructive pursuits than just paintballing weekends at The Court, whereas others see him as bringing much needed money into the village.

As ever, Rickman weaves a complex tale of sinister undercurrents set amidst an ancient landscape. His characters are always well-drawn ranging from ex-SAS trooper turned priest, Syd Spicer, the man with the teddy bear's eyes, to the irrepressible Gomer Parry, still running his own plant hire business and using his machines to run an impromptu and unpaid snow-plough service to keep the country lanes clear in winter. Gomer is as weathered and timeless as the countryside he inhabits and is by far one of Rickman's best drawn characters. Jane Watkins plays a larger part than she has done in the past and watching her development is always interesting. She's as principled and proactive as ever, and her relationship with Gomer is one of the book's great strengths, whereas Merrily's own relationship with musician Lol Robinson still seems to be going nowhere fast.

In all his books, Rickman exhibits a light touch with the supernatural elements and his ability to keep the reader guessing about the motivations and actions of a large cast of characters, all with their own part to play, never flags. His descriptions of Merrily's brushes with the seemingly inexplicable are genuinely chilling, but always seem capable of being read on two levels, appealing equally to both those who believe evil is capable of physical manifestation and those of a more skeptical disposition.

This was one of those books that I was enjoying so much I really didn't want to come to the end of it. I could always happily spend more time in the company of Rickman's characters without tiring of them.

Linda Wilson is a writer, and retired solicitor, with an interest in archaeology and cave art, who now divides her time between England and France.

Reviewed by Linda Wilson, September 2011

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