PHIL RICKMAN – The Smile of a Ghost. Macmillan, UK, hardcover, Nov 2005; Macmillan-Pan, UK, Nov 2006. Imported & sold in the US under the Trafalgar Square imprint.

PHIL RICKMAN Merrily Watkins

   Merrily Watkins is a female Anglican priest. She’s also the diocesan exorcist, but there are elements within the local church that have little faith in her “calling,” and as she attempts to deal with a series of deaths of teenagers — deaths that may be something other than accidental — her special skills are put to tests that could end her special role in the church.

   Merrily has a daughter, a lover, and a belief in the importance of her role. She’s no conventional cleric, and in spite of her role as an exorcist, this is no retread of the usual horrific events associated with this rite.

   Most of the atrocities that are committed in the course of the novel are all too human in origin, although there’s a bit of flirting with the supernatural that may put off the conventional mystery reader. Merrily works within the church, with the local townspeople and in an uneasy alliance, with the local police, trying to keep her footing, not always successfully, among these often opposing elements.

   I’ll probably want to try another of the series. It satisfies two of my chief requirements for good mystery: a well-characterized protagonist and a well drawn setting. As for the meshing and weaving of these elements into a compelling plot, I can only say that if I wasn’t mesmerized by the telling (as the Publisher’s Weekly reviewer claimed to be), I wasn’t put off by it either.

   The series, at the least, merits another chance.

       The Merrily Watkins series —

    1. The Wine of Angels (1998)

PHIL RICKMAN Merrily Watkins

    2. Midwinter of the Spirit (1999)
    3. A Crown of Lights (2001)
    4. The Cure of Souls (2001)

PHIL RICKMAN Merrily Watkins

    5. The Lamp of the Wicked (2002)
    6. The Prayer of the Night Shepherd (2004)

PHIL RICKMAN Merrily Watkins

    7. The Smile of a Ghost (2005)
    8. The Remains of an Altar (2006)
    9. The Fabric of Sin (2007)
   10. To Dream of the Dead (2008)

PHIL RICKMAN Merrily Watkins