Last autumn, a midweek television series caught my attention. ‘Midwinter of the Spirit’, it was called, and a creepy affair it was: an excellent choice for a dull evening with nothing much on the horizon but getting up for work the next morning. I read a couple of reviews, hoped there might be another series in the offing, and somewhere in my mind, without even being consciously aware of it, filed the name Phil Rickman away. He’s the author of the Merrily Watkins Mysteries, from which ‘Midwinter’ was adapted.
Nothing for a while… although I did buy two of Phil Rickman’s novels (from another series). Then forgot about them.
Less than two weeks ago, recovering from a flu virus, I needed something exciting to read, and remembered my Kindle purchases. Perfect! ‘The Cold Calling’ hooked me in immediately, with its chilling and relentless Green Man murders and assorted slightly-odd characters. Odd? Well, that’s how I interpreted ‘Holy’ Grayle Underhill, a New Age journalist from New York; Bobby Maiden, a policeman who doesn’t quite fit the usual pattern; Marcus Bacton, irritable ex-schoolteacher and proprietor of ‘The Phenomenologist’ magazine; Sister Andy, a formidable Glaswegian nurse. Oh, and best of all, Cindy Mars-Lewis, a creation so wonderful I’m not prepared to reveal anything about him at this stage. (Or perhaps I just did.) The novel is mostly set around the border between Hereford and Wales – a part of the world I absolutely love – with a prehistoric monument as a powerful focal point. Phil Rickman manages to combine crime, psychic phenomena, unlikely relationships, excitement, menace – and even humour- with some genuinely unsettling moments. Yes, it’s a cliche but I couldn’t stop reading!
The beauty of Kindle, of course, is that it’s easy to move seamlessly from one novel in a series straight into the next. ‘Mean Spirit’, therefore, followed without further ado. The same eccentric characters are involved, including the intriguing Cindy (you really have to meet him for yourself). A new character, Persephone Callard, leads us into the world of spiritualism and seances, and Cindy has a problem with a celebrity hypnotist. Also featured: ‘Britain’s only purpose-built haunted house’ and a disturbing undercurrent of crime. Again, there are some unsettling sequences. But I think what Phil Rickman does really well is pace, along with the occasional chiller sentence. Eventually, but all too soon, the plot elements slot into place without (for this reader at least) being too predictable.
So now I’ve only got one book left to read. ‘Night After Night’. (Someone please tell me if there are any more in this particular series that I don’t know about). Part of me doesn’t want to read it – I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t already devoured 25% of it – but I can’t stop myself. Am I in some kind of hypnotic trance?
All is not lost though: there are still, I believe, Merrily Watkins Mysteries to go at!