The Wine of Angels – Phil Rickman
This is another book that I happen to come across on the Kindle that seemed to be well regarded and very cheap. It is book one in the Merrily Watkins series, of which I believe there have been 11 books so far. It often amazes me how someone who has written 11 books and is relatively popular can escape my notice but Phil Rickman had done just that.
The new vicar in the village of Ledwardine does not need a haunted vicarage, or controversy over the first Ledwardine Festival. The event's focus is the mysterious death of a previous minister during the 17th-century witch-hunts. Then a girl disappears and an old apple-tree bears fruit.
I will be the first to admit that the blurb hardly sounds the most original but I was pleasantly surprised with, “The wine of angels.” The characters in the village are all well portrayed and are not forced upon you. Phil assumes that his reader has a degree of intelligence and introduces them quickly but leaves it up to you to work who is who out for yourselves. After a while everyone falls into place and you realise that you are firmly immersed into the intricate world of Ledwardine.
Merrily Watkins is a flawed character. Nervous about her new role but with an inner confidence in her ability, she is mythed when she is unable to demonstrate this to her new flock. She also wrestles with her relationship with her teenage daughter Jane, who increasingly questions her mother’s parenting skills whilst forging her own existence in the village.
As with Robert Jackson Bennett’s the Troupe which I read recently, the mystery or supernatural element is not what you would expect. The spooky elements follow the familiar tropes of bumps in the night etc but overall they are underplayed and as such more effective.
The third point of view character Lol is a former musician who was relatively successful before his career spiralled out of control. Lol wishes to keep himself to himself but finds himself embroidered in the drama that engulfs the Watkins family. Lol is perhaps the most interesting character. You empathise with his pain, but also worry about the type of man he really is.
Rickman excels at dialogue, his characters are all believable and you can feel the hatred and tension they have for each other.
One reviewer on Amazon (A Watson) describes this book as, “a ghost story wrapped inside a mystery and bound tightly together with the twine of dark folklore.” This sums it up perfectly but I would go as far as to say that this is also a lesson in characterisation.
The conclusion is more than satisfying with a nice twist. This is again underplayed and adds to the book.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of Merrily Watkins and would recommend the book to anyone looking for something familiar but different.
My rating: 8