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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fingernail marks on the chair arm
I've been a fan of Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins novels for some time now, and I've come to love the characters and the setting. Beautiful black and white Ledwardine, constantly under threat from the outside world of property developers and identical shopping estates and money-grubbing capitalists, just surviving by the skin of its teeth. Merrily herself, holding on to...
Published on 28 Oct 2011 by Zander Nyrond

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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sadly disappointing
I like Phil Rickman's books. I really like the Merrily Watkins series. And I've been waiting for the new one for quite a while. But it really wasn't worth the wait. For a start it's too long. It could have lost a third of its volume without losing the story. There again, there wasn't much story. There were several subplots - most of which meandered in and out of the book...
Published on 11 Oct 2011 by Amazon Customer


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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fingernail marks on the chair arm, 28 Oct 2011
I've been a fan of Phil Rickman's Merrily Watkins novels for some time now, and I've come to love the characters and the setting. Beautiful black and white Ledwardine, constantly under threat from the outside world of property developers and identical shopping estates and money-grubbing capitalists, just surviving by the skin of its teeth. Merrily herself, holding on to her faith in much the same way. Lol, Jane, Gomer, Frannie Bliss. All just managing to survive in the maelstrom of life.

This book holds no comfort. Without giving away plot, at the end of it none of the above has changed for the better, and several of these characters whom I've come to know as friends have been put through the mill good and proper. And yet it's a satisfying read, as one would expect from Rickman, and there is a kind of exaltation in the ending. Rickman is especially good at moments that make you want to punch the air and shout "YES!" And I found a special treat here in a nice long discussion between Merrily and the gleefully amoral magician Athena White, who remains a joy to read, especially to read aloud. (I read these books to my wife who is partially sighted.)

And there is meat here as well. There's a sock in the eye for those modern comparative religionists who like to make out, based on a few superficial resemblances in the central story, that the cult of Mithras and Christianity are fundamentally identical. There's a sideswipe at the current fad for blokishness, idolising organisations such as the SAS (who certainly deserve admiration, but are hardly to be envied or emulated) and "finding your inner warrior," and there's a television presenter on a programme about cars who I'm sure is not based on any real person living or dead, but ought to be. From the depths of the past rises the unclean shadow of Denzil Joy once again. And there's Jane, charging in where angels fear to tread in her own inimitable way.

You won't be disappointed in The Secrets Of Pain. You might find yourself wishing that the next Merrily book could be a nice safe British Cosy whodunnit, a rest for these characters who have gone through so much...but it wouldn't be Phil Rickman if it were. So, pry your hands off the chair arms and put some gaffa tape over the fingernail marks, and read it again.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Much Anticipated Return to Ledwardine, 23 Oct 2011
Reading a new book from Phil Rickman is like opening presents on Christmas Day. It's anticipated all year and never disappoints. The Secrets of Pain is the latest in the Merrily Watkins series which follows Merrily, Jane, Lol and of course Gomer Parry through harrowing experiences bordering on the supernatural. In The Secrets of Pain, Merrily is faced with the death of a fellow vicar, Syd Spicer, which the authorities claim was natural causes. Soon Merrily learns that there is much, much more to the story than the death of a colleague. Meanwhile Jane, Merrily's now 18 year old daughter, is involved with exposing illegal hunt clubs that leads her into a very dark and dangerous realm. The seemingly disconnected events all come together in the climax with twists and turns of events and logic that in the end make perfect sense. The most exceptional aspect of all of Phil's books are the characters. You feel the vulnerabilities of Merrily, the insecurities of Lol, the "In Your Face-ness" of Jane and the dedication and loyalty of Gomer. The characters are so believable that I can't image that they don't really exist.

In addition to the wonderful characters is Phil's description of the Welsh borderlands. The sleepy villages that have an undercurrent of suspicion of anybody from "Off." The ancient sacred sites, the old cathedrals and churches, standing stones and ley lines that lend an air of the supernatural to the plots. Warning: Once you start reading a Merrily Watkins book, be prepared to be hooked.
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47 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Spiffing, 2 Sep 2011
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A. Watson "allan watson" (Glasgow) - See all my reviews
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This is a brilliant return to Ledwardine, the postcard pretty English village where darkness lurks behind lace curtains and the taint of old murder has soaked into the timbers of the black and white buildings. Phil Rickman knows where the beating heart of rural malevolence is to be found and he infuses his pages with liberal doses from this wellspring of brooding ichor.

The first half of the book mostly plays like the pastoral guitar picking of a Nick Drake song. It gives us breathing space to wander around an old familiar stamping ground and get re-acquainted with characters we've come to look upon as friends. This is part of the magic of these novels. It's like coming home after a long holiday. Of course it wouldn't be a Rickman book if this period of grace wasn't interspersed with a rising body count and glazed with a thin skein of supernatural disturbance.

Somewhere around the midway point it's like Gomer has fitted afterburners to his JCB. The plot switches into overdrive mode and all you can do is hang on to your hat until it smacks into the buffers at the end of the track with a shriek of grinding metal. So take my advice and prepare yourself for a bad case of whiplash. I had to wear a surgical collar for three days after reading this book.

This ranks up there as one the best Merrily books I've read. It's full of suspense, sly wit, compelling prose, and has a plot that revolves around the mystical undercurrents that secretly exist within the military brotherhood of the SAS.

And as an additional extra - it's big and heavy enough to kill your feuding next door neighbour with if you throw it from an upstairs window. What more can you want from a Phil Rickman novel?
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great thrilling exciting read, 9 Sep 2011
Well Phil Rickman does it again, a supbre twisting thriller,wonderfully research and beautifully written ( and edited ) great characters you can really empathise with ; read about Jane Watkins and you will know her, if you have a teenage daughter.

Merrily Watkins is the greatest , apparently almost hidden, secret in English literature , everyone who reads the books is hooked, so if you like a fantastic, wonderfully exciting satisfying read that is fresh original and different, forget Grisham , Reichs and all that stuff. Merrily is the queen of them all, a wonderful crime , mystery ,political intrigue, suspense, and mystical series with marvellous fresh originality .

Join Merrily, Jane, Lol and Gomer Parry Plant Hire and the rest of the gang in the fight against human evil( and other sorts perhaps) with well written believable characters , in the magnificient haunting English/Welsh border countryside beautifully described . You don't even need tanks to help in the fight against evil when you have Gomer's JCB.

Don't just believe me, read the reviews from the Times the Guardian,Daily Mail and authors such as Bernard Cormwall.

So BUY this book and all the other Merrily's,

I can only believe it is political intrigue or black magic why all the Merrily books, including this one, are all not number one multi million best sellers.

P.s Phil Rickman is also a really nice bloke as well.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another winner, 22 Sep 2011
By 
This may be the best Merrily Watkins mystery yet. Of course, I ALWAYS think that, then the next one comes along and THAT'S the best. This one entwines ancient Brit history with very modern history and the combination works. I love the history, being a real Anglophile, and also though, the slightly metaphysical twists in the story. The characters in Rickman's stories continue to develop and change, especially Jane. And I can see in her a reflection of the growth processes of my own (now grown) children and of myself. Their village has become MY village, and I find myself incensed at the way incomers treat it. Then realize with a jolt, that as a Yank, I would be an incomer too... though I hope a more sympathetic and sensitive one. Didn't leave a horrible scar on Bretforton when I lived there for awhile. (Though the locals STILL refer to it as " the Barn where the Yanks lived", 25 years later!)
Anyway, I am looking forward to the next Merrily after reading this one that has lost none of the punch of the others and was a grand, long read. Maggy Anthony
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wow heart racing stuff, 17 Sep 2011
By 
sharon (FALMOUTH, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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What a relief to find after waiting a while for the next Merrily book i was not disappointed in any way. Phil Rickman has managed to keep the characters alive and evolving in a way that lots of authors of long running series cannot. You do not need to have read the earlier books to enjoy this one but i'm sure if this is your first introduction to Ledwardine you will want to read them all to find out more about the characters in this one.

The Secrets Of Pain exposes the reality of what is really happening in rural towns and villages, its not Miss Marple and twee little murders solved over tea and cakes, just like country living is not in the least bit like the images pedalled by Boden catalogues and Country Living type magazines! The characters are so believable and the way the divides in the communities are portrayed is so exquisitely done and without preaching is such clever writing.

If you want a gripping read that makes you think,informs and entertains you then choose this. I had a racing heart and genuinely felt the tension at several of the events as they unfolded and was entirely engrossed all the way through.

Phil Rickman deserves to be acknowledged as a first class author and I'm sure that finally the word is spreading that his writing beats the socks most of the lack lustre run of the mill crime fiction around today.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book of the year for me, 6 Sep 2011
By 
A long awaited return to Ledwardine village and the fabulous Merrily Watkins, deliverance Minister and mum to feisty teenager Jane. Phil Rickman has really hit the big time with his latest book, all my favourite characters on fine form and the rescue party led by Gomer Parry on a JCB - brilliant! I wore my 'Gomer Parry Plant Hire' tee shirt with pride whilst reading :) The fine writing, great locations and atmosphere make this a book that draws you in, keeps you engaged and leaves you wanting more. If you haven't read any Merrily books yet and are looking for a new author to try, Phil Rickman is the one to go for - murder, mystery, historical accuracy and spookiness all wrapped up in a cracking good read. Mr Rickman, you are my favourite author and I adore Merrily and co so could you just head back to your desk and concentrate on getting the next book out ASAP?
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars All's well in Ledwardine!, 29 Aug 2011
By 
A. Roberts (Wales) - See all my reviews
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A new Phil Rickman book is something to be anticipated and it's been quite a while since the last in his Merrily Watkins series. `Secrets of Pain' is the latest excursion to the fictional village of Ledwardine and Merrily fans need not worry. All the old favourites are there; Merrily and Jane, Gomer (obviously), Lol, Bliss, Ethel the cat and so on. I'm not revealing anything about the plot save to say that countryside politics, ancient Roman religions, earth mysteries, the SAS, wannabe SAS, cock fighting and skewed romances all meld in a rip roaring and thought provoking yarn. The dialogue is fast paced and natural, real characters behaving in believable ways in a landscape just a blink away from the real Welsh Borders. The weather and the landscape are permanent backdrops to Rickman's writing, and his descriptions of the sky and clouds which recur throughout the book to help set and seal the mood. If I have any cavils it's that in `Secrets' the supernatural elements are less to the fore than in previous Merrily novels, and the pace, certainly in the first half of the book, is a perhaps a tad slow- but that just means you get more Merrily for the money! But balancing crime and the supernatural is a tricksy business and one Rickman does unbelievably well. If you're a Merrily fan you won't be disappointed and, as ever, it'll leave you wanting the next book to come soon. Can we have more supernatural next time please Mr Rickman and much more Huw as well.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Than Just A Mystery, 7 Mar 2012
By 
Rob Wilder (Rio Rancho, New Mexico) - See all my reviews
The latest book in the Merrily Watkins saga does not disappoint. This is the largest tome in the series, for good reason. The story is chock full of twists and turns, telling what appears to be at least four different stories. Never fear, by the end Rickman pulls it all together in his usual fashion. He is a master craftsman who never fails to provide a perfectly finished product.

In this one we learn more about the SAS, military heroes who endure the most rigorous training to become the best in the world and sometimes make deep sacrifices in their personal lives. We also follow Frannie Bliss as he investigates a seemingly racially motivated murder of two immigrant women. Jane, Merrily's daughter, is occupied with discovering the existence of an exceptionally cruel "sport" occurring in Ledwardine. While all this is going on Merrily looks into the death of a former colleague which leads to a strange, militaristic cult created by the followers of Mithras.

As usual, Rickman provides us with a fascinating history lesson as well as trenchant observations about the changes occurring in England's small towns.

When you finish this book, you will come away feeling that you have had an experience that is seldom found in the average mystery novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ledwardine, on the border..., 15 Nov 2011
By 
D. Harris (Oxford, UK) - See all my reviews
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I enjoyed this. I seemed to have been waiting ages for the next instalment in Merrily Watkins' story, which is perhaps not surprising as it's a hefty book and Rickman had published The Bones of Avalon in the meantime.

There are three, or four, almost parallel stories here, which hardly intersect until the end. Merrily is asked to help Syd Spicer, ex SAS, who has rejoined the Regiment as Chaplain but seems to have woken old ghosts in so doing. Jane investigates the murkier doings of Ward Savidge, would-be Squire of Ledwardine. And Frannie Bliss and Annie have their hands full with murder and rural protest. There is really enough material for three books and it's a mark of Rickman's skill that he keeps all three plots on the go. That does, perhaps, mean less Merrily than one would like, I did feel that to a degree she almost becomes a secondary character in her own series, but then this book is dominated by two thousand years of Hereford military history, which is incubating something rather nasty left over from Roman times. Her unease with that is perhaps reflected by her place in the story.

What else? There's the usual local politics and tension between locals and those from "Off" (though without any neat heroes and villains). If the setting and characters have become familiar, Rickman prevents them ever seeming tired. Although this series has reached book 11, it has plenty of life in it yet. I hope it won't be quite so long till the next one, but if it's as good as this, I'm willing to wait.
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