The Merrily Watkins series by Phil Rickman




The last two weeks I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have an unhealthy new obsession. I’ve told everyone that will listen the intricate ins and outs of this series of crime novels and have completely neglected doing any housework at all, gripped by the convoluted plots and bizarre characters created by this man. In short, I’m doing the fan thing.

I posted earlier on the blog about The Magus of Hay and how much I enjoyed it. So I kept my promise and read more in the series, and it’s become an addiction. It’s a most unlikely premise – on the Welsh border near Hereford, single mum and parish priest Merrily Watkins reluctantly takes on the role of Deliverance minister (or exorcist) and finds herself embroiled in the machinations of the local community, both spiritually and criminally. So far she’s encountered a sexually predatory Bishop, a solicitor who won’t let his dead wife go, a group of SAS-wannabes who may have commited murder… Not to mention a varied assortment of witches and Druids who challenge her belief system, and supernatural entities that are giving her serious grief…. So gritty crime meets religion head on, and somehow it works. Brilliantly.

I totally believe in Merrily as a character, and in her circle of friends. Her daughter Jane, who’s a pagan, is feisty and fun to read about – I was gripping the arm of my chair in The Secrets of Pain as she walked into horrendous danger. Lol, Merrily’s would-be boyfriend, is likeable and I really wish they’d sort it out and get together. The relationship between the two detectives Frannie Bliss and Annie Howe adds a whole new level of tension. And is Deliverance instructor Huw friend or foe? He’s not at all ambiguous…

But I love, love, love Gomer Parry. This down-to-earth, practical grandfather-figure who stands for no nonsense and saves the day in his JCB. Frequently. Awesome isn’t the word!

It’s kind of like a grittier Midsomer Murders on speed. There’s so much going on, and I can never predict what’s going to happen next or how it will end. I’m reading them slightly out of sequence, but I can’t get enough. Rickman touches on many themes, creating a complex world which takes social and religious issues and puts them under an intense microscope. His sense of place is brilliant, both in his descriptions and in his characterisation, revealing a real tension between town and country, local or incomer. I particularly like how the religious aspect is handled. You can take the supernatural elements as real or as just part of the characters’ interpretations of events; the dying Denzil Joy may be just a nasty man who leaves unpleasant memories behind, or a sexually deviant ghost, but either way his malignant presence is horrible and unsettling. The scene in the hospital (scritch scratch) will haunt me for a long time. And both sides of the religious debate, Christian and Pagan, are shown as good and evil in equal measure. The stresses of being a female minister in a traditionally man’s world are not glossed over either.

In short, Rickman’s damn good.

There’s a website at that gives you the lowdown on the real life inspiration for the series (both people and places). And a mention that the Merrily Watkins series has been optioned by ITV Drama…. Fingers crossed!

Now for the next one…

Midwinter of the Spirit, Corvus, ISBN 978-0857890108

A Crown of Lights, Corvus, ISBN 978-0857890115

The Secrets of Pain, Corvus, ISBN 978-1848872752

Published by Jo

Writer, Editor, Librarian

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