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on 10 January 2002
2001 was a good year for Phil Rickman fans, with two new novels to his name. (OK, three if you include Phil's, erm, partner-in-crime, Will Kingdom novel, MEAN SPIRIT.) For my money, though, this one is the best of them.
It's summer, and the temperature's rising in more ways than one. A haunted hop-kiln. a drop-out trainee psychotherapist/sensitive musician (yep, folks, Lol Robinson's back, after being criminally dismissed from the last book in a couple of sentences), the wonderful and irreverent Simon St John (from DECEMBER; along with Prof Levin and Simon's missus, with her useful collection of carnal verbs), as well as Annie Howe, whom we see a lot more of than the last book, too. Jane is here, too, of course, Merrily's new-age daughter (think a pagan version of Winona Ryder in MERMAIDS), desperate to unburden herself of certain things you really do want to get rid of at 16.
This is a sexy book. Its motifs recurr nicely in Rickman's spare yet full descriptions of the countryside all the action occurs in. The supporting cast is, as ever, great and quirky; the dialogue sparkles -this is how people really do talk - and the plot powers everything along to an inevitable conclussion.
This is Phil's 4th Rev Watkins book, and by now, according to series' conventions, she should be staking vampires and shooting werewolves in an unavoidable escalation of events. But no, Rickman's smarter than that, he knows characterisation is what keeps people interested, not stakes and silver bullets. And with Merrily, Jane and Lol he's on to a winner.
This is one of my favourite reads of the year; great characters and a great story which Rickman puts to bed nicely. Of course you should get a copy
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on 9 April 2017
one of my top 5 favs in the series
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Lol Robinson is living in the Herefordshire countryside and working with Prof Levin who has a recording studio. Lol is starting to write songs again and is toying with the idea of recording some, but it seems like too big a step to make. He is still thinking about Merrily Watkins - Deliverance Consultant to the Diocese of Hereford. Merrily herself has been approached by the mother of a teenage daughter who has suddenly turned against the Church and has started behaving strangely. Merrily is trying to decide whether the girl is possessed or whether it's the normal pains of growing up - writ large.

Merrily is asked to perform an exorcism in a former hop kiln close to where Lol is living. But things are never plain and simple and life is a lot more complicated in the village of Knight's Frome than it at first appears and people are definitely not what they seem. The story gradually builds to an atmospheric and exciting conclusion. This book will keep you reading and will make the hair on the back of your neck stand on end. There are some interesting characters - Gareth Stock and his wife who own the apparently haunted former hop kiln; Sally and Al Boswell who own and run the hop museum. There are interesting insights into how hop picking used to be carried out and into Romany beliefs.

I found the characters realistic and believable - the half gypsy Layla - who has the personality and appearance of an adult even though she is still a child; big businessman Allan Henry whose only motivations are money and power and Amy's parents trying to do the best they can for their daughter. The story is complex and enthralling and it is good to see Lol and Merrily working together again. This is the fourth book in the Merrily Watkins series and in my opinion one of the best.
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on 16 April 2014
Hops. I love hops, the feel of them, the smell of them, even the way they look. Most of all I love them because of what they are used to make. I've never before come across an author who would base a novel around the history of the growing and harvesting of the humble hop. However I've never come across an author like Phil Rickman.

The Frome valley is declining, the place's former success was based on hop growing, but the village where Lol Robinson has taken up residence is failing. The crop can barely be grown there any mor because of disease, and the local landowner had to sell off most of his assets. He is now dead, and his son is now determined to restore his family to their former glory, and is trying to buy back everything the family lost.

Lol meanwhile is living with Prof Levin, in his new studio, where he is introduced to Simon St John, and from there to Al Boswell, another wonderful character. From these two and their wives Lol is able to piece together a history of the area, the hop industry and the involvement of gypsies. All of this comes after he has an encounter with the ghostly "lady of the bines".

Merrily Watkins, of course, has to be involved, and she is brought in to deal with a possible haunting. A local couple have inherited a converted hop kiln, where there was a recent murder, and Merrily is required to cleanse the place.

Once again Phil Rickman is able to take local legend, weave into it a plausible ghost story and also a believable detective story involving some fantastic characterisation. None of these strands suffers at all because of the presence of the others, because the author is so skilful and everything is treated so sympathetically. This is actually a genuinely unsettling book, as have been some of the earlier works in this series, but the detective and police procedural parts of the book are just as intriguing. Masterful.

This is the book that sums the series up for me, even the title is fabulous.
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on 14 March 2013
I'm totally hooked on this series and am also reading other books by this author. I've had to download and am now reading "December", as I want to find out the context and back history of Prof Levin and Simon St John. I love the way that the characters are developed with each book. This is important because it can take a while to become familiar with new characters in books, and I sometimes find myself delving back through pages to re-familiarise myself with characters... But with this series, it's great because we know the central people already, we know their history and why they respond in certain ways to events .. so consequently I've downloaded the next in the series already! I can't put my finger on what it is about Phil Rickman's work. If I were to say they were ghost stories, that would be too simple a description. A big plus for me is the setting in Wales and the borders, with which I am familiar.. and then?? Well I love the series anyway. I have no criticism to make, other than I'm not finding it easy to read other authors at the moment, as I keep being drawn back to Phil Rickman.
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on 5 June 2012
Well, as I close each book in this series I think yep, that's the best so far! The thing is I have a sneaky feeling I'll be saying this as I close The Secrets of Pain, number 11 of The Merrily Watkins tales. As ever previous reviewers have beaten me to it and provided excellent descriptions of the plot so all it leaves me to say, yet again, is if you have not yet discovered life in Ledwardine and the irresistable cast of characters this author has imagined then wait no longer! Once again we have a fascinating plot, exceptional characterisations, a divine setting (in more ways than one)and another outing with Merrily and the gang. Unmissable, highly addictive and should come with a health warning for your bank balance as once you discover Rickman, there's no going back! Now, Lamp of the Wicked is calling, book 5, so here we go...happy days!
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on 6 June 2014
I bought the first book in this series on little more than a whim, it was going for 99p and I thought ah why not.
I was hooked within the first few pages and now having read the fourth book in the series they just seem to be getting better. Lol Robinson returns in this book just as Merrily's life seems to be taking a real spiralling downwards.
You really fall in love with these characters and feel their pain as well as their happiness, you urge them on and really wish you had friends who were like them. Good honest people who are just trying to do what's right in this strange world we live in.
If you have read the three previous books, then you will just love this one and if you haven't read the first three, then go and read them.
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on 28 February 2013
And she - Merrily Watkins exorcist extraordinary is your woman! In most crime stories when
the supernatural is considered as a suspect - at best it is left as an unspoken possibility when no evidence can be found. The reader is left wondering but that is not the case in a Rickman mystery. In my mind there is no other author who can wade chin deep into pools of murky evil or lost spirits and actually explain it to my satisfaction.

In this installment Merrily is embroiled in another local myth of the past which reaches into the present with Rickmans customary shudder-coated style.
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on 30 November 2013
"The Cure of Souls" is the fourth book in the Merrily Watkins series, which is proving to be more than just a flash-in-the-pan series. In Cure Merrily finds herself in the Frome Valley having been asked to exorcise a hop kiln. Things don't go well however,and she soon finds herself in the middle of a murder enquiry.
It's not all doom and gloom in the Watkins household however as Merrily and daughter Jane find themselves moving to the next level in their respective relationships. Could Merrily be about to settle down? We shall have to wait and see.
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on 16 November 2013
I love Phil Rickman's books, and the combination of crime novel, metaphyisical study and family saga that each one embodies. I have now read the whole series and am waiting with great impatience for the next one, due out in January 2014. Rickman writes beautifully and obviously does vast amounts of research on each topic. I enjoy the way that the various characters have different philosophical standpoints which are sympathetically explained and explored. In fact I am so hooked that I am planning a weekend in Herefordshire in the Spring!
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