The Wine of Angels – Phil Rickman (1999)

1st in the Merrily Watkins series

Merrily Watkins is the newly appointed Priest-in -Charge at the village of
Ledwardine in deepest Herefordshire. Beautiful church, black-and-white
buildings, gorgeous countryside – what’s not to like? Well a great deal as
Merrily, and her teenage daughter Jane, soon discover. There is quite a lot of rottenness Ledwardine where past and present are intertwined. Merrily soon starts to wonder if she is completely out of her depth as the violence and cruelty which lies below the picture-book surface is exposed.

I’ve been meaning to read a Merrily Watkins book for a long time. There were lots of indications that I would like it – it has a Vicar as protagonist and
I’m a sucker for ecclesiastical mysteries, it is set in a part of the
country I love, it has a village setting which I tend to like. All the omens
were good in fact. And for a few chapters I was really enjoying it; the
sociological observation seemed interesting, the characters quite strongly
drawn – if a tad stereotypical but I never mind that. However it gradually
dawned on me that over-riding all the other elements this book is in fact a
woo-woo book. Now sometimes there are woo-woo elements in the background of a book and I can live with that, though they don’t really appeal. Once however they are taken seriously and are at the heart of a book then I’m afraid we are into territory which is definitely a no-go area for me. Still I ploughed through all 629 pages – and this book is quite absurdly long –
just to be fair.

So to be fair, there is a reasonable amount of suspense (mostly of what we
might call the DIJ – daughter in jeopardy – kind), the plotting does work in
a weird sort of way and there are some enjoyable characters. But one needs
to be very clear about what sort of book this is. It is not an
ecclesiastical mystery – at least not when one sets it against the leaders
in that field like D.M Greenwood and Kate Charles; Rickman has nothing
interesting to say about the church and I suspect isn’t very interested in
it. The woo-woo on the other hand is absolutely integral. So if you don’t
like woo-woo then basically this is not a series for you. On the other hand
it is definitely individual and I can quite see that if you like this you
might well like it a lot! So despite what I have said provided you do not
have a high aversion to woo-woo this series is worth giving a go.

(April 2009)