After her first brush with the otherworldly, Merrily is asked by the new, aggressive/progressive bishop to become the official Diocesan Exorcist, or Head of the Deliverance Department. Reluctantly she takes up the challenge, only to find herself thwarted at every turn. Her tutor actively seeks to turn her away from the challenge with the reasoning that women should become more comfortable with their new role within the church before moving on to tackle such grey areas. The newly retired diocesan exorcist is openly against women in the church and blatantly tries to sabotage Merrily’s first efforts before she can get a toehold in. His old secretary, on the other hand, is thrilled to have Merrily fill his shoes as she is convinced that there are things going on in the cathedral which shouldn’t be.
Whilst struggling to find her place within the church, Merrily must also help her daughter find her place in the world. Jane is also interested in the paranormal, but rejects the church and sets off on her own to discover for herself what she really believes and really doesn’t. As most teenagers do, she rejects her mother’s help and advice and winds up in trouble of her own.
I think I mentioned in my review of the first Merrily book, The Wine of Angels, that this isn’t really a genre I would normally be attracted to. I’m not overly enamoured with anything New Age or as Old Age as exorcism. However, Phil Rickman really does manage to make the best out of all the directions this book takes. It’s a combination of clerical mystery, crime, thriller and ghost story, all of which he pulls together nicely. He has good, strong characters who are easy to care about, a great setting and just enough action to keep the reader interested without going overboard. I also like that he’s outlining the struggles women still encounter today because even if they are set within the church, it’s still a reflection of the way society functions as a whole.
This book could have gone either way, but Rickman pulls it off well. 4 out of 5.