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on 6 January 2002
A young Wiccan couple, newcomers to the mysterious area of the English/Welsh border, who want to reconsecrate a ruined church on their land in the name of the old pagan gods.
A fundamentalist local minister who is profoundly provoked by this, all the more as this church is one of five dedicated to St Michael, warrior against dragons.
A country solicitor who cannot seem to let his dead wife go.
And Old Hindwell, the small border community, holds quite a few more dark and unsettling secrets. In the midst of all this and with conflicts growing on all sides, the Rev. Merrily Watkins, 'diocesan deliverance consultant', finds herself not only in a situation where her own beliefs and loyalty to the church are seriously tested, but also on late-night trash TV to represent the Church against militant pagans. When she finds out the truth about the shadowy secrets of Old Hindwell's spiritual legacy, she puts her own life at risk.
'A Crown of Lights', the third in the 'Merrily Watkins'-series, is a brilliant blend of crime novel, supernatural suspense and murder mystery. The characters and the setting are so utterly real and believable that you seem to see and hear and smell and feel as your read, you are take right into the eerie athmosphere. A book "you live as well as you read", so while you're at it, take a few days off work, unhook the phone and find a baby-sitter! (and when you've finished, look forward to the sequel...).
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on 17 October 2015
Rickman writes fluently, cleverly, subtly so the moral and spiritual dilemmas posed for his heroine are convincing and compelling. Merrily (single Mum, vicar and exorcist), Jane (Merrily's daughter), Lol and Gomer, the principal protagonists, are beautifully drawn and Gomer is straight from Shakespeare, the quintessential rustic, planted on and somehow in and very much of the bleak and often foggy borderlands where Angles, Saxons and Celts have uneasily rubbed against each other for centuries. The Normans are from Off, as are most of the English. So lots of friction, sparks and occasionally explosions. Throw in a lady in twin-set and pearls who regards Hereford Cathedral her personal property... Jane is every oarent's teenaged daughter: swamped by hormones and angst, wanting to believe in the truth of Christianity, sees and experiences evil, self-doubting, courageous, loving but fearful of its effects--such a convincing portrait.
I'm steadily reading all his books. They are consistently good. All have show us edges:wgere culture edge, where reality may end, where belief is stretched to the limit.
Why has it taken so long to recognise this gifted and entertaining writer? Or have I simply missed him?
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on 19 January 2002
Rickman rocks; he delivers with yet another exciting thriller. In the third Merrily Watkins
installment,he really keeps you guessing. You feel
the tension build and you want more. Some of those quaint little towns hold nasty little secrets. By all means, do not miss. It's a ride
you won't soon forget!
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on 13 September 2002
Of course Merrily isn't a good detective. She's a priest (and a damn good one at that.) I really enjoyed the latest Merrily Watkins book, I've now read them all and I've come to think of the recurring characters a little like old friends (kinda like Stephen Kings Castle Rock stories) and it was good to catch up with Merrily, Jane and 'Irene' again. I love pagan/christian aspect of this book and the way that Rickman takes issues that are bubbling away in real life and then finds a situation that exagerates them and turn it into a total believable thriller/ghost/mystery story, packed full of believable characters and this series just keeps getting better and better. It's also a joy to find a bloke that can actually create and write realistic female characters across an age range. As far as I'm concerned, Rickman's work just keeps getting better. I managed to read this book in a day and a half and I enjoyed every single word of it. Highly recommended.
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on 25 August 2016
I first read A Crown of Lights fifteen years ago, and having just finished Friend of the Dusk, Phil Rickman's latest novel in the Merrily Watkins series, I decided to revisit some of the earlier titles. Everyone grows, a lot happens in fifteen years, but I was drawn into the book from page one with all the intensity of the first time. The storytelling was as masterful then as in the latest novel. So, what has changed and grown? To maintain this quality of authorship in a series over fifteen years and fourteen novels is no mean feat, and it doesn't happen without building on and enriching one's craft. To keep the interest and freshness in each new book requires a skill and passion that is rare indeed. The characters have grown and expanded as has the world they inhabit... A world that is close enough to our world to feel like coming home and yet far enough away to provide escape and a bit of the magic we all seek in life. I have mentioned the extensive research, the sense of place and the living breathing quality of the stories in other reviews of the more recent books in the series. The purpose of this review is to say that all of this applies as much to the author's earlier works as to his latest, and to encourage anyone who has discovered Phil Rickman's later novels to go back to where it all began... You won't be disappointed.
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on 24 March 2001
In A Crown of Lights, Rickman moves the pagan elements that have been meandering through the first two Merrily Watkins novels to thematic center stage by establishing, in the first chapter, a strong and growing tension between Robin and Betty Thorogood, a young wiccan couple, and the "Local People" of Old Hindwell, a town where "border logic" prevails and anyone not born within a few-mile radius is considered "from off." The Thorogoods have purchased an old farmhouse and an adjoining, deconsecrated church, once part of a ring of churches built to contain an ancient evil. The main conflict seems to focus on the couple's plans to reconsecrate the church for the purpose of pre-Christian worship and the ambitions of Father Nick Ellis, the rogue priest who declares a holy war on the Thorogoods. While this conflict is certainly the most obvious one in the novel, it soon gives way to reveal all the other nasty, shadowy secrets of the town that follows its own "border logic" to the detriment not only of those "from off" but of its own people as well. Sent by the acting Bishop of Hereford to guide Father Ellis in his ministerial duties, Merrily discovers that he poses more of a threat to the community of Old Hindwell than do the outed witches, Robin and Betty Thorogood. She soon realizes that her role as Diocesan Deliverance Minister may require her to deliver members of Ellis's own flock from its not-so-good shepherd.
The strength of Rickman's latest novel lies not only in his talent for developing a number of wonderful characters in each story or for sustaining the lively regional dialects, but also in the thematic attention Rickman pays to our foolish-and dangerous-human desire to separate "us" from "them." In A Crown of Lights, Rickman exposes the darker sides of both Christianity and Paganism for what they are- a metaphoric dragon that feeds on the negative energy of intolerance, perversity and the lust for power. It is only when the pair of priestesses, Merrily and Betty, blend their unlikely forces, that the "Local People" of Old Hindwell stand any chance of deliverance. As Betty says to Merrily, "Faith is faith, but religions are no better than the people who practice them." Amen to that. By combining elements of the supernatural, myth and regional lore with his keen sense of the human psyche, Phil Rickman has created yet another brilliant novel.
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on 6 January 2016
I have recently discovered Phil Rickman's series of books featuring the Deliverance minister Merrily Watkins and her feisty daughter Jane. They explore the idea that evil can be tangible and can manifest itself in supernatural events. Most people today reject this but I happen to believe that, in the right setting and circumstances, it is very real. Human beings have mostly lost the sensitivity that would allow them to experience the supernatural, of which our ancestor's were once more aware.

I particularly like that the stories are set in actual places that one could visit, and Rickman's book Merrily's Border will provided useful background and information about the Welsh Marches. Each book works as a stand-alone novel, but it is preferable to read them in order because there are some back references. If you do, and enjoy this type of mystery story, then you are in for a treat. Excellent, highly recommended.
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on 13 April 2015
I love these Merrily Watkins novels. Phil Rickman combines brilliant evocation of setting and excellent characterisation with a range of interests in things weird and wonderful which keep me gripped. He refers several times to the psychology of "the border" and I am at one with his observations about this and the way it impacts spirituality and the emotional life of the inhabitants. In "A Crown of Lights", as with other novels in this series, I enjoy the way different groups of people - Merrily; Betty and Robin; Jane and her boyfriend; Sophie and Gomer Parry, all gather information separately and then about two thirds of the way through the story Merrily starts connecting into every strand through her own investigations, gaining people's confidences, learning new things, taking huge risks, finding herself in strange places... Then she's in real danger, holed up with fanatics and criminals. And the one piece of information she needs, in order to complete the puzzle, and possibly to save her life, is in the hands of Jane and Gomer, who don't know where she is...
Another brilliant story by Phil Rickman.
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Crown of Lights (Merrily Watkins 3) (2007)
****The Devil Rides Out
Phil Rickman’s third novel to feature the Church of England’s ‘exorcist-in-chief’, vicar Merrily Watkins; her angst-ridden teenage daughter; and sundry other locals in the South-West village of Ledwardine, continues in the same vein as its predecessors – and is none the worse for it. A pagan couple has moved into a derelict country church on the Welsh border, and consequently aroused the ire of their local evangelist minister. Meanwhile, Merrily is invited to join the panel of a trashy TV talk-show, in order to discuss the pagan versus Christian happenings in the area; at the same time as having to deal with her daughter Jane’s continued cynicism; her friend’s bereavement; the possible presence of an extremely active serial killer; and another local man who seems unwilling to be parted from his dead wife.
Rickman’s prose is solid if unspectacular, but his characterisations are well-rounded, and plotlines absorbing. The novels are certainly good enough for me to continue the series, and as Rickman has (to date) produced upwards of a dozen in the series, I won’t be ending them any time soon.
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on 6 January 2016
This is my second Merrily Watkins featuring book. As before I liked the idea in the book with believable characters and a credible mysterious story that led to places that I did not expect. I found I needed to know what happens next, hoping and wondering how Merrily will get out of this with honour when faced with credible people who have no honour. For me it was a good page turner. As before I finished the book sliightly shaken and stirred and willing to read another in the series. That is after reading something else to steady myself first.
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