Thursday, 21 October 2010

A Crown of Lights by Phil Rickman

A Crown of Lights (Merrily Watkins Mysteries)Merrily Watkins is the diocesan exorcist for Hereford and is the one they call in when things seem a little out of the ordinary. That is, she gets called in any time anything seems spooky or inexplicable. In the beginning, Merrily was unsure if she had found the right place for her within the hierarchy of the church. In the meantime, she still has her doubts, but has become much surer of herself and is less inclined to doubt her instincts. In a Crown of Lights, after Merrily answers a call to look in on an older gentleman who is taking the care of his dead wife’s body to extremes she becomes embroiled in the feud between the growing pagan movement, the church and an odd Christian sect which seems to have sprung out of nowhere. As events unfold and Merrily, with the help of her teenage daughter Jane, finds out more and more about the background of those involved, the pieces start to come together to form a rather unsavoury picture on all sides and she begins to wonder if she’ll be able to extract herself from the situation with life, limb and reputation intact.

This is the third book in the Merrily Watkins series and I quite liked it. Rickman manages to give the books and his characters a touch of the supernatural without going overboard. He’s left the series realistic by creating situations that are just a little bit off, thereby not requiring the reader to decide if he actually believes in the supernatural or not. You could choose to see the events in that light if you wanted to, but you can just right it all off as one of those things men create to spook themselves. Even if you choose not to put too much faith in the otherworldly, the books remain entertaining. Merrily is a down to earth, realistic woman who brooks no nonsense and only half believes in the whole business herself. She certainly believes in evil and the power of evil, but she’s not the type to go in for an all out supernatural frenzy. She’s belief without fanaticism, which is probably much more appealing to the average reader than if she were to go to one extreme or the other.

Jane’s daughter also adds a good layer to the book as Jane is more inclined to believe in all things mystical than her mother is. As a teenager with alternative beliefs, Jane often goads her mother into thinking about things more than she might do otherwise. She also incites her to act where Merrily wouldn’t. So while much of their relationship is pretty much the same as between any teenage daughter and her mother, Jane keeps the story moving along. She provides normalcy with a kick.

All in all, the books are entertaining without actually entering into the “Twilight” Zone (pun intended because I just couldn’t help myself). A Crown of Lights still holds as much interest as the first two novels while developing the characters at the same time. 4.5/5.

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