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When a derelict country church is bought by a pagan couple, the local evangelical minister reacts with fury. A modern witch hunt begins, and Merrily Watkins is expected to keep a lid on the cauldron. Meanwhile, there is the problem of the man who won’t be parted from his dead wife, the ancient mystery of the five local churches dedicated to St. Michael, and a killer with a When a derelict country church is bought by a pagan couple, the local evangelical minister reacts with fury. A modern witch hunt begins, and Merrily Watkins is expected to keep a lid on the cauldron. Meanwhile, there is the problem of the man who won’t be parted from his dead wife, the ancient mystery of the five local churches dedicated to St. Michael, and a killer with an old tradition to guard.


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When a derelict country church is bought by a pagan couple, the local evangelical minister reacts with fury. A modern witch hunt begins, and Merrily Watkins is expected to keep a lid on the cauldron. Meanwhile, there is the problem of the man who won’t be parted from his dead wife, the ancient mystery of the five local churches dedicated to St. Michael, and a killer with a When a derelict country church is bought by a pagan couple, the local evangelical minister reacts with fury. A modern witch hunt begins, and Merrily Watkins is expected to keep a lid on the cauldron. Meanwhile, there is the problem of the man who won’t be parted from his dead wife, the ancient mystery of the five local churches dedicated to St. Michael, and a killer with an old tradition to guard.

30 review for A Crown of Lights

  1. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    4.25 stars. I seem to have hit a pattern with these books. I love them all the way through, and then they get a bit disturbing at the end and I have to downgrade from a five. But there's usually a murder mystery buried in the story, so you can't really expect for it to not be a bit disturbing! And these books all involve the paranormal, the occult, whatever you want to call it, so if you believe in God and the devil (and I do), then it's bound to rock you a bit. Another thing that I'm finding ve 4.25 stars. I seem to have hit a pattern with these books. I love them all the way through, and then they get a bit disturbing at the end and I have to downgrade from a five. But there's usually a murder mystery buried in the story, so you can't really expect for it to not be a bit disturbing! And these books all involve the paranormal, the occult, whatever you want to call it, so if you believe in God and the devil (and I do), then it's bound to rock you a bit. Another thing that I'm finding very interesting about this series is how factual the bones of the stories typically are. Which makes it a bit more chilling, when you think about it. The author explains everything in the notes at the end. I highly recommend this series. It's not preachy, it's very real, there's no pie-in-the-sky spirituality going on with Merrily Watkins (the main character). There is a religious theme always, because how could there not be, she is the diocesan exorcist. But these books always read more like a ghost story than anything religious. I love all of the main characters, I love the country village that is the setting for most of the stories, and I love the way Rickman writes. He puts me right there in the English countryside, and the characters are interesting, quirky and real. A bit eccentric, but I love them all. I think high school kids would really enjoy this series too, as Merrily's daughter, Jane is terrific too. She's 16 in this book, and the furthest thing from airy-fairy you'd want. Audible has a terrific narrator for this series too. Rebecca Lacey narrated the first book, The Wine of Angels, and I thought she was great. Then I realized that all the rest of the novels have Emma Powell as the narrator. I didn't like her at first, but now I've got used to her narration, I love her. She really knows these characters and she makes these books a joy to listen to. You can't go wrong with this series if you're looking for a creepy, suspenseful read. The crime aspect is here, but it's never the star of the show, so don't pigeonhole this series in the mystery genre. You'd be missing the heart of it, and that would be a shame.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Bryn

    Rickman is one of those delectable writers whose work doesn't fall neatly into any genre. There's a strong mystery element in his books, and sometimes there are dead people, although it might not be murder, and even if it is, the murder might not be the centre of the plot. There's at least the possibility of magic and occulty stuff, but its often how to tell how truly real any of it is - which I like. Rickman builds his stories around groups of people and places, and often there's an old building Rickman is one of those delectable writers whose work doesn't fall neatly into any genre. There's a strong mystery element in his books, and sometimes there are dead people, although it might not be murder, and even if it is, the murder might not be the centre of the plot. There's at least the possibility of magic and occulty stuff, but its often how to tell how truly real any of it is - which I like. Rickman builds his stories around groups of people and places, and often there's an old building somewhere in the middle of the story. In 'A Crown of Lights' the building is a ruined church, bought by a pagan couple. Throw in some fundamentalist Christians, a few strange coincidences, a few deaths, and something nasty in the forest, and the plot races along. You have to suspend your disbelief a bit, especially if you inhabit a reality that doesn't include magic. But, if you can manage that, then the strange goings on, and even stranger people in 'A Crown of Lights' weave together to make something quite compelling.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    So Merrily (who I keep seeing as Dawn French) has to deal with witches and weirdo Christians and a Jerry Springer type show. It is a really good book about faith and belief. Betty has it right - faith and religion are completely different. I also really like Betty and Robin's relationship in this book. In part, because Robin while not prefect, really loves and cares for Betty. It's like Terry in The Detectorists when he is asked if the Lindy Hop is more important than protecting a site, and he s So Merrily (who I keep seeing as Dawn French) has to deal with witches and weirdo Christians and a Jerry Springer type show. It is a really good book about faith and belief. Betty has it right - faith and religion are completely different. I also really like Betty and Robin's relationship in this book. In part, because Robin while not prefect, really loves and cares for Betty. It's like Terry in The Detectorists when he is asked if the Lindy Hop is more important than protecting a site, and he says no, but Shelia (his wife) is. You melt and will forgive him pretty much anything. Of course, the core relationship beside Merrily and her faith, is that between Merry and Jane. With Jane, Rickman has created a teen girl who is not annoying. The mystery is pretty good and ties into domestic abuse issues, which was a good touch.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jamie Collins

    Eventually I suppose I’ll stop being surprised at how much I like these books. The plot of this one isn’t quite as engaging as that of the first two books, but it’s very well written and has satisfying character development. This is a story of pagans vs. fundamentalist Christians, with our vicar Merrily Watkins - a liberal yet conventional Anglican - unhappily in the middle. A young pagan couple has bought some land on which sits an old, decommissioned church, and they are looking forward to “rec Eventually I suppose I’ll stop being surprised at how much I like these books. The plot of this one isn’t quite as engaging as that of the first two books, but it’s very well written and has satisfying character development. This is a story of pagans vs. fundamentalist Christians, with our vicar Merrily Watkins - a liberal yet conventional Anglican - unhappily in the middle. A young pagan couple has bought some land on which sits an old, decommissioned church, and they are looking forward to “reclaiming an old, pagan sacred place”. A fiery evangelical minister seizes this opportunity for a “spiritual battle”, but his motivations may not be entirely Christian. I liked the young pagan couple. She’s level-headed and generally spiritual, while he’s impulsive and unabashedly enchanted with the trappings of paganism: the candles, the chalices of wine, and most especially his wife naked in the moonlight. There’s nothing likeable about the fanatical minister, and Merrily is repulsed by him even before she uncovers some of his more sinister activities. He's perhaps too over-the-top, stereotypically evil. There are supernatural elements, but they are still fairly subtle and are used with great effect to create a spooky atmosphere. There’s a murder mystery, which is a relatively minor part of the story but needed for the suspenseful ending. I’m enjoying Merrily’s daughter Jane, who is an entirely believable teenage girl but who isn’t in the least annoying. I missed Lol, the timid musician from the earlier books, but we are compensated by plenty of scenes with Gomer Parry, the restless, resourceful pensioner who has befriended Merrily. (I’m amused that you can buy a “Gomer Parry Plant Hire” t-shirt.)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Damaskcat

    Pagans have bought a country property which includes a decommissioned and ruined church. The parish in which it stands is in the hands of a charismatic priest - Nick Ellis. The Bishop of Hereford is concerned about the parish and what Nick is up to and asks Merrily Watkins - Diocesan Deliverance Consultant - to find out what is going on. Merrily is keen to find out what is going on because after a visit to local hospital she has become interested in the death of a young woman Menna Wheal, who li Pagans have bought a country property which includes a decommissioned and ruined church. The parish in which it stands is in the hands of a charismatic priest - Nick Ellis. The Bishop of Hereford is concerned about the parish and what Nick is up to and asks Merrily Watkins - Diocesan Deliverance Consultant - to find out what is going on. Merrily is keen to find out what is going on because after a visit to local hospital she has become interested in the death of a young woman Menna Wheal, who lived in the same parish, and feels there is more to her death than meets the eye. What follows in an intriguing and fast paced plot which I found difficult to stop reading. The conflict between different religions and belief systems is well portrayed as is the claustrophobic nature of some country areas. There are some interesting characters - Nick Ellis - the priest; Ned Bain - the pagan; Robin and Betty - the unfortunate couple who have bought the church ruins. The book shows clearly how crowd can be controlled and incited to certain behaviour which individually they might abhor. This is human nature at its worst and at its best. I really enjoyed this book and have read it several times. I like Merrily Watkins as she is a far from perfect individual. She does her best in the most awful situations and sometimes makes mistakes. She is a three dimensional character as is her headstrong daughter, Jane. I would recommend this series to anyone who wants something out of the ordinary which will cause them to question their own beliefs.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    The main character, Merrily Watkins, C of E vicar, is a believable, and interesting woman. She is a widow, and mother of a 16 year old daughter. She is also an exorcist, something that always seems to be part of the plot. Although this is a long book (almost 600 pages), nothing seems like mere filler. Rather the author Rickman constructs a complex tale about a village on the Welsh border, with two new residents, pagans, who have bought a property including a decommissioned church. A charismatic The main character, Merrily Watkins, C of E vicar, is a believable, and interesting woman. She is a widow, and mother of a 16 year old daughter. She is also an exorcist, something that always seems to be part of the plot. Although this is a long book (almost 600 pages), nothing seems like mere filler. Rather the author Rickman constructs a complex tale about a village on the Welsh border, with two new residents, pagans, who have bought a property including a decommissioned church. A charismatic preacher moves into the village, and starts building a campaign against evil forces, namely pagans. This area includes 5 churches, all named for (St.) Michael, circling a wood. Legend says that the churches are there to protect the area by keeping the dragon (devil) in the woods. Rickman ties together a number of storylines, all related to the secret corruption of this small town.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jo Chambers

    I absolutely love the Merrily Watkins series. The characters are wonderful and are like old friends. The stories are clever and interesting, combining folklore and mysticism with good crime stories. This book is #3 in the series and just as good as the first two. It was about the clash of Christian Fundamentalism with Paganism and is a cautionary tale about fundamentalist ideologies generally. Merrily herself is a liberal Church of England priest who is also the Diocesan Deliverance Minister. Th I absolutely love the Merrily Watkins series. The characters are wonderful and are like old friends. The stories are clever and interesting, combining folklore and mysticism with good crime stories. This book is #3 in the series and just as good as the first two. It was about the clash of Christian Fundamentalism with Paganism and is a cautionary tale about fundamentalist ideologies generally. Merrily herself is a liberal Church of England priest who is also the Diocesan Deliverance Minister. The book is also an interesting account of the borderlands of Wales and England, with their own folk-lore and traditions. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to reading the next one in the series!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    I love the mix of mystery with aspects of the supernatural. The characters are flawed, human and believable. And having grown up in Herefordshire I can hear the accent. there's a special joy to having places I know in a good story. I love the mix of mystery with aspects of the supernatural. The characters are flawed, human and believable. And having grown up in Herefordshire I can hear the accent. there's a special joy to having places I know in a good story.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Janice

    I'm enjoying this series more and more. This one had me on the edge of the seat bed and I couldn't stop reading until it was finished. I'm enjoying this series more and more. This one had me on the edge of the seat bed and I couldn't stop reading until it was finished.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Victoria

    Wow! What an explosive third book in the Merrily Watkins series!! It may not have had the supernatural tension that strengthened the second book (Midwinter of the Spirit), but Rickman filled it with some all too worldly horrors! I must also add that the previous books - even in their most horrific moments - balanced out that terror with the beautiful countryside setting. This book was certainly not a positive for any sort of tourism into the area though! Similar to the previous two books in the s Wow! What an explosive third book in the Merrily Watkins series!! It may not have had the supernatural tension that strengthened the second book (Midwinter of the Spirit), but Rickman filled it with some all too worldly horrors! I must also add that the previous books - even in their most horrific moments - balanced out that terror with the beautiful countryside setting. This book was certainly not a positive for any sort of tourism into the area though! Similar to the previous two books in the series, this third installment includes another intricate plot and even the new characters introduced here are fully formed and three-dimensional. The series regulars continue to develop in a realistic fashion. Gomer, in particular, shines in an unexpected way in this book - joining my ever-growing list of series favorites. Rickman’s books continue to remind stylistically of Sarah Rayne’s mysteries. Not every reader may have the patience for the meticulous set up leading up to the always exciting conclusions, but I find these books to be thoroughly enjoyable! My only complaint specific to this book lies with some abrupt verb tense shifts at the end - but these present a more technical distraction than anything else. Otherwise, I am truly looking forward to devouring the rest of the series!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Booniss

    This book in the Merrily Watkins series sees the vicar and Deliverance specialist (exorcist) grappling with escalating tension between a young pagan couple new to the village, and a growing group of fundamentalist Christians who are gathering around a charismatic young new priest. On top of that, there are plenty of community secrets to unearth - one of which ends in murder - all of which are skilfully drawn together to form smaller pieces of a larger puzzle. I adore this series - Merrily is ver This book in the Merrily Watkins series sees the vicar and Deliverance specialist (exorcist) grappling with escalating tension between a young pagan couple new to the village, and a growing group of fundamentalist Christians who are gathering around a charismatic young new priest. On top of that, there are plenty of community secrets to unearth - one of which ends in murder - all of which are skilfully drawn together to form smaller pieces of a larger puzzle. I adore this series - Merrily is very relatable and down to earth, and very human for her constant questioning of and probing at her own faith. Her teenage daughter Jane, interested in Wicca, makes for a great foil and the books never feel as though they are trying to preach for one side or the other.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)] (view spoiler)[ Bettie's Books (hide spoiler)]

  13. 5 out of 5

    Lois

    What a good read! Our Reverend Merrily Watkins is again terribly compromised as she tries to forestall a Holy war between Pagans and fundamentalist Christians in a village on the Welsh border. Rickman throws such a complex web in his plotting, with a murder not really at the center of the story, but peripheral to considerations of religious practice and faith. Character development of Merrily and daughter Jane were enjoyed by this reader, but secondary characters shone- were absolutely delightfu What a good read! Our Reverend Merrily Watkins is again terribly compromised as she tries to forestall a Holy war between Pagans and fundamentalist Christians in a village on the Welsh border. Rickman throws such a complex web in his plotting, with a murder not really at the center of the story, but peripheral to considerations of religious practice and faith. Character development of Merrily and daughter Jane were enjoyed by this reader, but secondary characters shone- were absolutely delightful: Mrs. Sophie Hill, Gomer, and most of all Betty (please, please let her be featured in future books in the series!) who says to Merrily at the end: "Don't go losing your faith. It's only religion. Faith is faith, but religions are no better than the people who practice them."

  14. 5 out of 5

    Plum-crazy

    Borrowed from the library when it first came out...oh, must be knocking on 20 years ago! Loved it & am still following the series today. Can't really give a higher recommendation than that can I? :o) Borrowed from the library when it first came out...oh, must be knocking on 20 years ago! Loved it & am still following the series today. Can't really give a higher recommendation than that can I? :o)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paul Finch

    WARNING FOR MINOR SPOILERS When a young pagan couple, Robin and Betty Thorogood, acquire an old farmhouse in rural New Hindwell, they are delighted to discover the relic of an abandoned Christian chapel in the grounds. Immediately, they launch plans to perform rituals there and to reclaim the ancient site for the ‘old religion’ by celebrating the traditional Celtic feast of Imbolc. But of course, it isn’t going to be that simple. To start with, Betty Thorogood – the more tuned-in of the two – sense WARNING FOR MINOR SPOILERS When a young pagan couple, Robin and Betty Thorogood, acquire an old farmhouse in rural New Hindwell, they are delighted to discover the relic of an abandoned Christian chapel in the grounds. Immediately, they launch plans to perform rituals there and to reclaim the ancient site for the ‘old religion’ by celebrating the traditional Celtic feast of Imbolc. But of course, it isn’t going to be that simple. To start with, Betty Thorogood – the more tuned-in of the two – senses a dark presence in the ruin and an air of foreboding in the encircling Radnor Valley. If this doesn’t worry her enough, the couple’s plans arouse the wrath of Reverend Nick Ellis, the local evangelical minister, who has brought a hellfire message to the UK from his former parish in the American South. Despite Betty’s charm and beauty, Ellis, a man with great charisma but an increasingly sinister fundamentalist agenda, manages to stir up intense local feeling against the duo – to the point where mob violence soon threatens. Merrily Watkins, local vicar and Diocesan Deliverance Officer, a woman very experienced in tackling the occult, is sent to keep a watch on the volatile situation. But it soon becomes apparent that this is a vastly more complex and frightening problem than even she anticipated. To start with, there are several other bizarre, possibly interconnected issues in New Hindwell: eccentric lawyer JW Weal can’t seem to let go of his recently deceased wife and may well have used nefarious, if not downright evil, methods to hang onto her soul, while at the same time Merrily is disturbed by the rumour that a circle of medieval churches dedicated to St. Michael, originally built to contain a dragon lurking in Radnor Forest, may actually have been located there to entrap a demonic entity. Above all though, the main threat to peace in this small community stems from the Rev. Ellis, who is much more than just a zealous preacher. Merrily soon comes to doubt his motives and even his beliefs, and finds his followers – who include several local people of note, including the fearsome councillor’s wife, Judith Prosser – a particularly menacing bunch, whose strict loyalty to each other may be concealing a wealth of sins, including murder. In fact, so worried is she by this gathering storm, that she finds herself siding with the pagan newcomers, though they themselves don’t make this easy for her when a whole bunch of them turns up, determined to desecrate the ancient Christian site with their Imbolc rites … A Crown of Lights is the third outing in the hugely popular Merrily Watkins series, and for my money one of the best. Not that I don’t have a couple of reservations about it. One key issue I have with the Watkins stories overall is the central heroine’s apparent lack of conviction. It can’t be easy for her; the loss of her husband while she was still young and the hostility she seems to face at almost every turn from her know-all teenage daughter, Jane, must leave her feeling pretty friendless at times. But even so, Merrily, while not exactly beset with doubts about her faith, is hardly the sort of muscular Christian you’d normally expect to occupy the role of exorcist. She doesn’t seem to like anything about her own Church, and nor is she easily convinced that supernatural forces exist (despite much evidence to the contrary in this series). That said, these apparent weaknesses work in her favour in this particular outing, as the powers soon ranged against her – from all sides, both pagan and Christian – leave her more embattled than we’ve ever seen before, which quickly wins her over to the readers. You always tend to root for the underdog, especially if she gets bullied as often as Merrily does – one scene in particular, when she is unwillingly drawn into a live TV debate with a bunch of militant witches under the control of arch manipulator Ned Bain, has you on her side in no uncertain terms. Less easy to reconcile is the other issue, which is Phil Rickman’s general reluctance to plunge fully into the world of the weird. There are several ghostly and demonic elements in A Crown of Lights, though it is essentially a clever and absorbing murder mystery, so they remain on the periphery. This is a personal viewpoint of course, but while this subtle combo of thriller and chiller has worked for some, I found the many signposts to the arcane – the ancient churches, the legends, the folklore, the prehistoric monuments with which the wild landscape is littered, the hints of a devilish presence, etc – disappointing, as there is no real fulfilment of that particular promise. However, this is still an excellent read. To start with, the incendiary atmosphere in the village is hugely well handled. You wouldn’t normally expect the wintry Welsh Marches to play host to a furious war of words between fanatical religious groups, but it happens here in completely convincing fashion, the hostility simmering throughout the book until the threat of violence feels so real that you can’t help but shudder – there is surely nothing more frightening in both fiction and non-fiction than lynch-law. It also helps to drive the narrative along that it’s such a multi-stranded mystery, which you simply have to get to the bottom of. A Crown of Lights is an intricate tale, at times almost overwhelmingly so, but it’s massively intriguing – and the reader can rest assured that it all gets tied up neatly at the end. As always with Phil Rickman’s books, the writing is of the highest order. The gorgeous rural region is beautifully realised, its ancientness and mystery (my earlier comments notwithstanding) evoked in loving fashion. By the same token, the book is a mastery of research. The complex mythology of the Marches is brought vividly to life, while the pagan belief system is richly detailed and made to feel like so much more than silly superstition. Most interesting of all, though, is the clash of cultures. Paganism is portrayed as a free-spirited faith, only loosely based on genuine pre-Christian beliefs but unfettered by modernism, unlike Merrily’s ‘rational’ brand of 21st century Christianity in which the exorcist is expected to know as much about psychiatry as doctrine. And this is another key aspect of the book: the war between the old and the new – some of which rages inside Merrily, and between her vision of a kinder Christianity and Nick Ellis’s fire and brimstone, but also out in the wider village community of New Hindwell, which, though it’s hardly the back of beyond, is beset with tradition and was never likely to welcome changes enforced on it by outsiders. A compelling, thought-provoking novel, very, very readable and highly recommended for lovers of both mystery and mysticism.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kribu

    Hmmm. In some ways, I liked this one a lot more than the first two books - certainly more than the second book. It was more ... a bit more down to earth, I suppose, and the characters central to this one were, IMHO, excellent. So I've been debating between three and four stars, and I just cannot decide. I think, ultimately, while I really do enjoy this series - for the descriptions, for the slow-paced mysteries, for the realism, for the utter humanity of the characters, most of whom are very well f Hmmm. In some ways, I liked this one a lot more than the first two books - certainly more than the second book. It was more ... a bit more down to earth, I suppose, and the characters central to this one were, IMHO, excellent. So I've been debating between three and four stars, and I just cannot decide. I think, ultimately, while I really do enjoy this series - for the descriptions, for the slow-paced mysteries, for the realism, for the utter humanity of the characters, most of whom are very well fleshed-out and real people, with all their pathetic little issues and very human hopes and dreams and good sides - the problem, I have, essentially concerns the root of the series. The metaphysical. The spiritual. The supernatural. The religious. It can't exactly be ignored, considering it's a major - huge - part of what these books are. And I'm not exactly wanting to ignore it, but... I'm not religious, never have been. I can't truly understand the spiritual, supernaturally-tinged struggles the main characters go through, and accept them in a way that I can easily accept the supernatural in fantasy. I couldn't really empathise with either side in this book, neither the Wiccans nor the Christians (of any persuasion), because both of those things are so .. foreign, for me. So alien. So odd. Still, in spite of my inability to truly get those parts of these books, it's, I suppose, also part of what draws me to them - that these books are a wonderful combination of very realistic, down-to-earth people (because it might be a mystery, but it's all about the people, and not about the plot), and that fascinating alien thing. It's like looking into another world. Anyway. I did enjoy this, greatly, and I'll be reading more.

  17. 5 out of 5

    J.A. Ironside

    I stand by my previous rating however, since I first read this 20yrs ago, I think I probably didn't appreciate it enough back then. Certain bits seem to have gone over my head which I caught this time round, so definitely worth a reread. I think I penalised it a bit before because Huw Owen and Lol Robinson - two of my favourite characters - barely get a mention. I see now this wasn't really fair because this is a story that calls for other POVs. Of all the books in the series so far, this one pro I stand by my previous rating however, since I first read this 20yrs ago, I think I probably didn't appreciate it enough back then. Certain bits seem to have gone over my head which I caught this time round, so definitely worth a reread. I think I penalised it a bit before because Huw Owen and Lol Robinson - two of my favourite characters - barely get a mention. I see now this wasn't really fair because this is a story that calls for other POVs. Of all the books in the series so far, this one probably comes closest to folk horror. It's set on the border between England and Wales, in Radnorshire. I've lived on both sides of the border - I live pretty close to it now - and I can confirm that the mindset of certain borders communities is accurately reflected here. There's wonderful snippets of history and dialect too. No spoilers for the main thrust of the story but as usual the old sits uneasily with the new, the zealot with the doubter, the old religion with Christianity - and various versions of both with good and bad actors in each camp. (Evangelical/ happy clappy paganism isn't as common as happy clappy Christianity but Rickman definitely has a grip on the dangers of both and the abuses of power possible.) Crime isn't usually a genre that bears much rereading but Rickman's work is so carefully wrought with subplots and layers of history and folklore and a tantalising grip of the supernatural, that these books are a treasure. I'm really enjoying rereading this series. Highly recommend.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Katie Grainger

    I am totally hooked on the world of Merrily Watkins. The third book in the series was another engaging mystery story with a number of elements interwoven. The only thing this book was lacking was Lol, but there were some other new characters who were pretty good. The book centres on a pagan couple who buy a church, when the local evangelical Rector finds out he is not happy and starts a campaign against the couple. As events unfold Merrily is pulled further and further into problems which are mo I am totally hooked on the world of Merrily Watkins. The third book in the series was another engaging mystery story with a number of elements interwoven. The only thing this book was lacking was Lol, but there were some other new characters who were pretty good. The book centres on a pagan couple who buy a church, when the local evangelical Rector finds out he is not happy and starts a campaign against the couple. As events unfold Merrily is pulled further and further into problems which are more sinister than she could have imagined. Another great book, a brilliant mystery. I loved Gomer in this book, fantastic partner for Merrily and Phil Rickman's writing is just wonderful. Can't wait to get stuck into the next one!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Julie Golding Page

    This is such a wonderful series, and the third instalment is no exception. I particularly appreciated the playing off of Anglican Christianity and paganism. Both are addressed with considerable complexity, so that neither side is caricatured. There are narrow-minded, open-minded, compassionate and arrogant people on both sides, with characters representing various nuances and positions within Christianity and paganism. I liked this one so much that I immediately started reading #4 in the series.. This is such a wonderful series, and the third instalment is no exception. I particularly appreciated the playing off of Anglican Christianity and paganism. Both are addressed with considerable complexity, so that neither side is caricatured. There are narrow-minded, open-minded, compassionate and arrogant people on both sides, with characters representing various nuances and positions within Christianity and paganism. I liked this one so much that I immediately started reading #4 in the series...

  20. 4 out of 5

    Vanessa

    The theme of paganism versus Christianity as well as the power ancient sites seem to have has been well researched and intelligently written about. The characters are interesting and believable. The reader is drawn into the story and the unveiling of the culprit behind all the sinister happenings leaves the reader gasping for breath. The novel is written with intelligent readers in mind and the author lays down challenges in the form of information and dialogue. Well written enjoyable read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Monica

    There is a lot packed into this Rickman book...Christianity, Paganism, murder…and Merrily Watkins needs to make sense if it all. I like the complexity of the books in this series. There is always a lot going on with the many various characters. The back history of each is interesting and add to the storyline...while at the same time both Merrily and her daughter Jane continue to develop into more complex characters with each book. Good reading.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Cole Davis

    I was disappointed in the homophobia at the end, directed towards the female villain. If not for that, it would have gotten full stars. Unfortunately the author's obvious Christian faith detracts from a proper level of tolerance. It could be homophobia on the part of the main character, but it really destroyed my enjoyment of the book. I was disappointed in the homophobia at the end, directed towards the female villain. If not for that, it would have gotten full stars. Unfortunately the author's obvious Christian faith detracts from a proper level of tolerance. It could be homophobia on the part of the main character, but it really destroyed my enjoyment of the book.

  23. 4 out of 5

    dmayr

    The beginning was interesting, halfway through it became gripping, but I found the resolution taking too long, hence the three stars. One thing, though, the characters in this Merrily Watkins series are fully-fleshed. I do appreciate the well-developed characters but I feel that there are too many plotlines which made the story longer than necessary. I'll still be reading the next book though. The beginning was interesting, halfway through it became gripping, but I found the resolution taking too long, hence the three stars. One thing, though, the characters in this Merrily Watkins series are fully-fleshed. I do appreciate the well-developed characters but I feel that there are too many plotlines which made the story longer than necessary. I'll still be reading the next book though.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Alison S

    Enjoyed this, but a few too many plot threads that got quite confusing at the end.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    Bit daft and slightly irritating

  26. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    This is the...5th? 6th? 7th?...book by Phil Rickman I have read and in some ways, the familiar beats of the Rickman-verse - the English countryside where old ways brush up against the new fangled while pagan and Christian mythologies entwine into something that is so very nearly supernatural it often is - have woven into a wooly blanket that is at once comforting and also a bit scratchy. That this novel includes both good and bad actors in both the pagan and the Christian camps and that this nov This is the...5th? 6th? 7th?...book by Phil Rickman I have read and in some ways, the familiar beats of the Rickman-verse - the English countryside where old ways brush up against the new fangled while pagan and Christian mythologies entwine into something that is so very nearly supernatural it often is - have woven into a wooly blanket that is at once comforting and also a bit scratchy. That this novel includes both good and bad actors in both the pagan and the Christian camps and that this novel includes pre-Christian sites of significance and asides about crumbling old church towers and insiders and outsiders and farmers and local people ("It's a local shop for local people!") and the sense that goodness is somehow found in the spot where all these things find balance is no surprise by this point, I know what I am getting into when I crack another 600ish page Rickman novel, but it does start to make you wonder if he has a set of index cards with tropes written on them that he refuses to toss out and keeps drawing from again and again. Jane, Merrily's daughter, is back being rebellious (though somewhat less so) while still being her mom's biggest fan. Merrily still smokes a lot including in a few places where she absolutely shouldn't. There's another death at a hospital that spurs the plot forward while also haunting Merrily. There's another Christian leader with sinister leanings. Another place of power. Another pagan leader who is up to something questionable. More hidden backstory at an old church. Another scene of someone getting assaulted in an underground tomb. Another scene of Merrily being essentially powerless as a baddie turns on her. It is not the same novel but it is also not very different. And that's ok. It reads well. It is interesting. It both dives feet first into the magical realism of the Rickman-verse and it keeps it grounded. It again hinges upon elements of a greater mystery that somewhat fails to pay off, while handing out solutions to lesser ones, instead. It is very nearly relaxing even as the tempo kicks over. It barely challenges beliefs. Barely frightens. But it does both just enough. It glorifies faith and again gives solace in a higher power, but not so much as to be cloying. It is not a gentle novel, per se, but it feels like one. I would almost recommend it as a starting volume in the Watkins series, because it is more connected to the overall arch of the later novels than the first and not as bleak as the second, but I need to read more to make this final call. In the end, I truly enjoyed it, the echoes more a boon than a bane. I just hope that the next one goes further afield and digs something of new ground.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Charles Kerns

    Snug little mysteries with a touch of gore, a bit of offstage sex, some semi-gothic near horror, and murders here and there, but still proper enough for grandmom. Merrily, the little vicar (short and voluptuous enough to titillate a bishop and choirmaster, among others) always obsesses over her inadequacies as does her love object Lol, the down-and-out musician back in town. Each book has a resident spirit/ghost that Merrily, the Deliverance Minister (read exorcist), takes on. Tensions frame the Snug little mysteries with a touch of gore, a bit of offstage sex, some semi-gothic near horror, and murders here and there, but still proper enough for grandmom. Merrily, the little vicar (short and voluptuous enough to titillate a bishop and choirmaster, among others) always obsesses over her inadequacies as does her love object Lol, the down-and-out musician back in town. Each book has a resident spirit/ghost that Merrily, the Deliverance Minister (read exorcist), takes on. Tensions frame the series: 1-Merrily vs. her bishops, Merrily vs. the traditionalists in the church who do not want women, Merrily vs. the rationalist wing of the Church of England who want no medieval ghosts wandering about, 2-daughter Jane, a mid-teen when the series starts, a born-again pagan looking dreamily at the moon at midnight vs. her mom whom Jane thinks is wasting her life in the no-account structure of the Church of England, Jane vs. the developers, the crooked, town councilors, and the newly arriving Londoners crowding out the old village life, 3-Inspector Bliss vs. his boss or his boss’s father, an old school retired cop who is moving into politics, 4- Hua, the old exorcist who runs the exorcism school, vs. everyone except (after a book or two) Merrily, 5-Khan, the immigrant impresario and salon-keeper who pops up when needed, vs. old-school England, … The plots are intricate, and the storytelling constantly shifts focus from one character to another. Episodes often end in a Perils-of-Pauline cliff-hanger. The characters are finely detailed--I know them better than my neighbors, but the gems of the series are the details about the Wales-England border country, all based on real places. Sometimes haunted, sometimes only threatening. A dozen or so books good for a two-month isolation. But you need breaks—I can only do two books straight without an interlude. I read French Revolution histories and Marcus s Aurelius’s Meditations to get away for a day or two from Mr. Rickman’s creation. This is one review for the complete series. I’ve read them all. I know I'm a man, not the target demographic, but I’m hunkering down during the C-virus lock-in, and they are here with me. Fine for a old-style virtual trip outside the front door into a land with no pandemic.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Toby

    This is a series that improves as it goes on. By the third book Rickman has fleshed out his protagonist so that Merrily Watkins feels more plausible. Gone is the sweary, doubt-ridden, emotional wreck of the first novel and instead we have a woman who is more sure of herself and her ministry. Rickman still gets the church a bit wrong from time to time. His bishops are little bit more cynical and worldly than, thankfully, I've experienced and the nuances of churchmanship that are probably only rea This is a series that improves as it goes on. By the third book Rickman has fleshed out his protagonist so that Merrily Watkins feels more plausible. Gone is the sweary, doubt-ridden, emotional wreck of the first novel and instead we have a woman who is more sure of herself and her ministry. Rickman still gets the church a bit wrong from time to time. His bishops are little bit more cynical and worldly than, thankfully, I've experienced and the nuances of churchmanship that are probably only really visible to those inside the church, don't always ring true. In this particular case a charismatic speaking-in-tongues minister who eschews church building would almost certainly not be found robed and being called Father. The plot itself is a good one and Rickman avoids easy dualism (pagans good; christians bad - or vice versa). There are pleasing depths of complexity here. Towards the end it all got a little carried away - simply too much happened in the last 100 pages. Finally, it was amusing to read a book written in 2001 in which the internet is used but still not widely available. Such was the speed of internet development that only a small tranche of books written will have the historical curiosity of someone having to travel in order to find an office with web access.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Diane Dickson

    I thought this was the best yet. As I have previously mentioned I went through a period when I was young when I read things like To the Devil a Daughter and what have you by Dennis Wheatley. These books are nowhere near as dark or a sexually explicit but they have the same sort of feel. What they have also though are really relatable characters and that makes them so much more fun to read. I loved the idea behind this one, Wicca, paganism etc, I am fascinated by all of that stuff anyway and seei I thought this was the best yet. As I have previously mentioned I went through a period when I was young when I read things like To the Devil a Daughter and what have you by Dennis Wheatley. These books are nowhere near as dark or a sexually explicit but they have the same sort of feel. What they have also though are really relatable characters and that makes them so much more fun to read. I loved the idea behind this one, Wicca, paganism etc, I am fascinated by all of that stuff anyway and seeing it here juxtaposed with traditional Christianity and it's much more scary counterpart fundamentalism - well it was just a wonderful stew of beliefs that had to end in confrontation. The settings are great and the old churches etc were very visible I thought. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed this read and the moment I had finished it I bought the next one in the series.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Claire D

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Book 3 in the Merrily Watkins Series and I feel I know her and her daughter, Jane, that much more now. Still set in (recent) history. The story is all the more for the lack of mobile phones and computer. Although, the modern communication world is creeping in. It perfectly captures the small village, closeted approach to life and ‘Off’ (those who come from other places). It touches on several rather delicate subjects, like sexual abuse and religious fanaticism. This book brings paganism into the Book 3 in the Merrily Watkins Series and I feel I know her and her daughter, Jane, that much more now. Still set in (recent) history. The story is all the more for the lack of mobile phones and computer. Although, the modern communication world is creeping in. It perfectly captures the small village, closeted approach to life and ‘Off’ (those who come from other places). It touches on several rather delicate subjects, like sexual abuse and religious fanaticism. This book brings paganism into the mix. And the mistrust and misunderstanding that the clash between religions causes. Full of plot twists and turns. Nice familiar main characters. Including a favourite of mine, Gomer Parry. You don’t need to read the first two books, before this. But it will make this story richer for the character understanding.

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