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History Comes Alive!
on 15 December 2007
If someone like Phil Rickman had been my history teacher in high school, I probably would have got better grades and an earlier interest in what may be the most fascinating subject of all. The point is, he does meticulous research and has the ability to make it come alive for the reader. Merrily's Border Country is steeped in ancient mysteries that can only be speculated about; so much is shrouded in the depths of time. This time out we have the Knights Templar and their connection with present day Freemasonry. Also there is a reference to the writer, M. R. James, without whose wonderful ghost stories many of us would have been cheated out of the experience of shivering in our beds late at night, searching the shadows and thinking, "There's no such thing as ghosts. Really there isn't..."
But this certainly isn't some musty old tome written by an academic. This is the ninth (and you will see the significance of that number in the story) adventure with Merrily Watkins, her daughter Jane and her extended family. At this point poor Merrily is very stressed and who wouldn't be in her situation? Her position as Diocesan Exorcist is in jeopardy with the distinct possibility of losing it and having to take on multiple parishes much like the circuit riding preachers of old in the U.S. That, coupled with the gruesome things she has seen, would be enough to drive the most stable of us over the edge. But we are seeing her eventually becoming toughened by her experiences. She may still have self doubts but she won't be pushed around, even by her superiors.
Helping in her investigation into the strange events surrounding the Master House in Garway are her lover, Lol Robinson and her daughter Jane. In the course of the book we see Jane growing up, taking charge of her life and Lol reaching a possible turning point in his career.
I think this really is the best book of the series with Rickman throwing in the occasional biting social commentary. The murder mystery makes me think of Raymond Chandler who said that he did not write whodunits but rather was concerned with the reasons that people commit the act. Whodunit becomes whydunit and the motive in this one, when it is finally revealed, is absolutely shocking.
Rickman is one of a group of really exceptional writers in the U.K. who include Kate Charles, Andrew Taylor, Stephen Bishop, Deborah Crombie and others who never seem to make our best seller lists which says something about the state of the publishing industry in our country. He is the best of the bunch and, while the temptation is to compare him with other writers like Chandler, Hammett and McBain, his writing is unique. There just is no one else like him. Unfortunately, we have to wait until next year for the next chapter in this superior series.