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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.
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on 16 December 2007
A classic series - something that will live on beyond our time - is unfolding before us. Merrily Watkins may be 'only' a literary' creation of Mr Rickman's mind, but she seems more like real-life flesh and blood to me. Not only that, but Rickman (or Merrily...) is dealing with 'big issues' here: theology, philosophy, the nature of human interaction with this imperfect world - all included organically within an fantastic story. In short, I unreservedly recommended this book - and all its suberb predecessors.
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on 6 November 2007
Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins novels are The Archers meets Dennis Wheatley at MR James's house. They tick so many boxes. Rural escapism? Yep. Crime procedural? Yes. Supernatural chills? Naturally. Fascinating facts about, say, the Templars, or Celtic mythology or Elgar or cider or the metaphysical poets or the C of E's stance on exorcism? All present and correct. It's one of life's great mysteries why Phil Rickman isn't up there with Ian Rankin and Ken Follett in the bestseller lists. And why don't we see Merrily on the telly? Perfect Sunday evening viewing I would have thought. Move over Midsomer Murders. Anyway, as usual, another winner from Rickman.
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VINE VOICEon 12 April 2008
The series of Ledwardine stories continues to unfold, and the cast of characters grow and mature. Jane is leaving childhood behind, and Merrily and Lol's relationship develops. (I find myself fretting over Gomer Parry, he's growing old!)
Phil Rickman's writing is fantastic, he instils a sense of place and time so (apparently) effortlessly. The level of his research into the esoteric - and sometimes the mundane - is heroic. If you're new to the series, I would strongly advise you to start at the beginning and work your way through the Merrily Watkins novels. I envy you the pleasure of discovering the world she and her companions inhabit.
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Merrily Watkins, Deliverance Consultant for the Diocese of Hereford, is asked to look into an apparently ghostly happening in a very old house which appears to have Templar connections. The house has just been purchased by the Duchy of Cornwall and everything is being treated as very important and `need to know' by Merrily's boss, the Bishop. Before long the pace is hotting up and an apparent murder and suicide brings the police into the equation.

This is an intriguing story with many ramifications and connections with the recent past as well as events many centuries ago. The writing draws you into the story and you feel as though you know the characters. Lol Robinson - musician - starting out on his second career; Merrily herself who fears that Deliverance will be taken away from her; Frannie Bliss - exile from Merseyside; Jane Watkins - Merrily's teenage daughter who is starting to be wise beyond her years.

If you want something a bit different from normal crime and mystery stories then try any of this fascinating series. They can be read in any order but it is interesting to see the development of the series characters if you read the books in the order in which they were published. The series started with `The Wine of Angels.'
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on 9 November 2007
In the latest outing. Merrily is involved in a property in the Soutwest Herefordshire village of Garway that belongs to the Duchy of Cornwall that may be haunted and may have a link with the Knights Templar. Meanwhile back in Ledwardine Merrily's daughter Jane, has concerns of her own, with a parishoner complaining about her mom to the locum vicar who's covering while Merrily is trying to sort Garway out and who has been anti-deliverance in a previous novel (Smile of a Ghost)and boyfriend problems now tha Eirion is away at University. On another front Lol Robinson is having to deal with becoming well known after one of his songs is used in and as the title of a succesful film. But, relaibly as usually Rickman weaves all of these into an utterley realistic and absorbing novel.
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on 24 October 2007
M R James, royal connections, Aleister Crowley and psychadelia come together in a solidly researched, vivid and thoroughly absorbing tale featuring fully fleshed out and utterly believable characters who seem to breathe and come alive from the pages. A tale of Knights Templar, family feuds, personal crises and triumphs and - of course - murder that is fast paced without leaving the reader giddy. Full of atmosphere, The Fabric of Sin is a story so visual and chilling that it begs to be adapted for the small screen. Rickman doesn't do red herrings or blind alleys, his writing skills are too developed for that: instead he has the ability to divert attention up an occasional side road which, however, always has significance to the main storyline. I finished the last page 2 days ago but the story still echoes and lures me back for a second reading. And Rickman's books thoroughly deserve repeated reading, because there always seems to be something new to pick up on. A terrific tale for a long dark night in front of the fire - though if you have an inglenook be sure you know what's lurking in the shadows...
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on 25 November 2007
Every Merrily Watkins novel from Rickman outshines its predecessor in plot, characterisation, language, dialogue and originality. This latest story is set in the small village of Garway, Herefordshire (a place close to my heart which is perhaps why this book was extra special to me) where Merrily has to investigate odd occurences in an ancient manor house. Could it be possession by the spirit of the writer M R James, or is something more sinister - and modern - at work? The book is both heart-warming and terrifying in equal measure, a gripping story which is excellently narrated at a pace guaranteed to keep the reader turning the page.

Rickman's speciality is mixing the supernatural with the natural. This book is the story of a developing love, a good old-fashioned crime and investigation, and enough mystery and suspense to send a shiver own the reader's spine. He creates characters that the reader cares about. Each time a new book is published you look forward to 'catching up' with Merrily, her boyfriend Lol, her wayward daughter Jane, the police inspector Frannie Bliss and Sophie, the bishop's secretary. Most of all, he doesn't keep his reader comfortable. People die when you don't expect them to; characters who you thought you'd been able to categorise turn out to have unexpected flaws or qualities. Rickman is not only a fine writer but also an excellent observer of people and places and his stories can only continue to enthrall.
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on 16 October 2007
Phil Rickman is the greatest living writer of his genre, without doubt! This latest book, "The Fabric of Sin" is the best yet from his "Merrily Watkins" series. If you haven't read the others, take my advice and buy (preferably), beg, steal or borrow all of the previous books, you will not regret it. They will keep you hooked for more "Merrily" for ever!

Merrily is drawn into intrigue, murder and the "goings on" of the landed gentry... Her spirit and determination to do what's right is shining through in this book. Her day job, as a parish priest in pretty Ledwardine and her other job in the diocese, as "Deliverance" (excorsist, if you like), literally makes you believe she is "on the case"... never fear, Merrily is here!!! Her faith has often been shaken, but she always bounces back to the fold! Her love for the singer Lol Robinson, brings a real sense of devotion to the proceedings, and the sneeking through the lych-gate is so "real life"...

Having discovered Phil Rickman, you can safely read Will Kingdom and Thom Madley with the same zealous thrist for more...

I rate this book, and indeed all of Mr Rickmans books as the best I've ever read, and will wait with anticipation for the next installment of our heroine Merrily Watkins...
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on 14 June 2008
This is the fourth of the Merrily Watkins series I've read and I'm going to get the rest and read them in order.

It is absolutely brilliant, a page turner. The characters feel real and the description of the insular border village, that this particular novel is set in, is very vivid!

As usual, it seems well researched! Although it is dealing with the currently popular subject of the Templars, it is dealing with it from a fresh modern approach.

I first found Phil Rickman in the Horror section in Borders but he's seriously misplaced there - Waterstones has him in Crime and that's the right place for him. It's a great book and I like the way he builds an atmosphere!
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